The Washington Capitals just ended their second three-game homestand of the season with a sweep of three of the Eastern Conference's most talented teams. Tonight, the Caps will attempt to keep momentum alive away from Verizon Center against the New York Rangers, starting a swing where Washington will play five of their next nine on the road.
The Capitals defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers last week, reaching the 10-win plateau in the second-fastest time in team history and now sit atop the Eastern Conference. It wasn't easy for Washington, however, who gave up three unanswered goals in the third period against both Toronto and Boston and needed overtime to vanquish the Flyers. Alexander Semin came up big, scoring a goal in each game, including the shootout goal that defeated the Maple Leafs. Rookie goaltender Braden Holtby also made his NHL debut against the Bruins in relief of Michal Neuvirth, picking up his first win and then defeating the Flyers in his first official NHL start.
Neuvirth will start tonight's game for the Capitals. who are still suffering from several injuries. Brooks Laich joins a list that includes Semyon Varlamov and Tom Poti after leaving Sunday's game with an upper body injury. Both Poti and Laich are expected to join the team in New York, but both players' statuses are uncertain, though head coach Bruce Boudreau "thinks" Laich will play and "will see" about Poti. Varlamov, however, did not travel with the team and is continuing to practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.
If there is any team who might be envious of the Capitals' injury situation, it would be the Rangers. New York is missing three of its best players, including oft-injured sniper Marian Gaborik, who is still recovering from a separated shoulder. Gaborik plans to return this week, but will not play against Washington. Also missing in action is captain Chris Drury (broken finger) and Vinny Prospal (knee surgery). Brandon Dubinsky has picked up the scoring slack, leading the Rangers with 10 goals.
The Capitals have had the Rangers' proverbial number over the past two seasons. Washington is 6-1-1 against the Rangers during the regular season since 2008-2009. The Rangers also surely remember their first round playoff series against the Capitals in 2009, blowing a 3-1 lead before losing in seven games.