The Washington Capitals and New York Rangers have met in the playoffs each of the past three seasons, but it's no sure thing that either makes the postseason this year. The Eastern Conference is deeper with the additions of Detroit and Columbus and there are 16 clubs battling for the eight playoff spots compared to 14 teams out West.
Caps Can't Find The Net
The Capitals are sliding, having lost four straight and eight of 10. They have topped three goals just once in that span and have been held to a total of six in the past four. The Caps have won only four of 15 games in regulation in the last month and have held the lead in eight of those 11 losses. Washington looked rather disinterested in Columbus on Friday night -- I've been to Columbus, it's easy to get disinterested there -- in a 5-1 loss. The Blue Jackets were 2-for-4 on the power play. Washington, meanwhile, is 0-for-13 in the past five games with the man-advantage. It's the first time the team has gone five straight games without a PP goal under Coach Adam Oates.
Alex Ovechkin looks like he's going to win the goals title as he leads the NHL by far with 34. His two-game goal streak ended against Columbus and he hasn't found the net this year against the Rangers. It's possible that Oates turns to Braden Holtby on Sunday as Philipp Grubauer, who has been a nice surprise, was yanked after allowing three goals on 14 shots against the Jackets and replaced by Holtby. Grubauer was never expected to be the No. 1 guy, only called up in late November from the AHL. He has outplayed Holtby and Michal Neuvirth.
Moving On Up
The Rangers have been fairly streaky all season and they are on a good run right now, having won four of five entering Saturday's game at Ottawa. Henrik Lundqvist has been in net for all five, now allowing more than two goals in any of them. All five teams -- Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and Detroit -- have winning records. Brad Richards, who was nearly amnestied this offseason, has been playing well in that stretch with two goals and four assists (plus-6). He's still minus-5 on the season.
The Rangers knew that would get good goaltending from Lundqvist this season but expected the offense to improve with the offseason addition of Rick Nash. However, the former Blue Jacket has been a big disappointment with just 11 goals and nine assists. He has missed 17 games due to injury but hasn't been the dominant force the team thought it was getting. New York has won three of the past four games in which he has a goal. Nash has only one two-goal game all year and that was in a loss against his former Columbus team on Jan. 6. They were both power-play goals and Nash has just one other with the man-advantage, way back on Nov. 21.
With Lundqvist taking Saturday's game against the Senators off, he's assured of starting this one.
Washington leads 2-1. On Oct. 16 in D.C., the Rangers won 2-0 as +133 underdogs on NHL odds with a total of 5.5. Lundqvist only had to make 22 saves for New York as his teammates blocked 22 other shots. Richards assisted on both of New York's second-period goals. The Rangers outshot Washington 36-22. On Dec. 8 at Madison Square Garden, the Capitals won 4-1 as +150 underdogs with a total of 5.5. It was Grubauer's first NHL win as he stopped 30 shots and earned the No. 1 star. And in the most recent matchup, the Capitals won 3-2 at home as -113 favorites on NHL odds with a total of 5.5. Eric Fehr scored the tiebreaking goal with 5:09 left and Grubauer had 38 saves. Lundqvist got that game off with Cam Talbot in net.Free NHL pick: We'll take New York and the under for our NHL picks. I might have worried about the second of a back-to-back but with Lundqvist rested he should stone a struggling Washington offense. The Rangers are a solid 5-1-1 in their past seven at the Garden. The Caps have dropped seven of their past nine on the road (two in shootouts). They have won just twice in the past eight at the Garden.