Hope you all had a Merry Christmas, but now it is time to get back to business. Tonight the New York Rangers take on the Washington Capitals in Washington D.C., a place and team the Rangers are quite familiar with.
The last two seasons the Rangers have defeated in the Capitals in two separate seven-game playoff series that went the distance, and earlier this season they beat the Caps in D.C. by a 2-0 score. However, in the team’s most recent matchup at Madison Square Garden, it was the Capitals that were victorious by a 4-1 score.
While both of these teams have played a lot of meaningful playoff games against each other, now there should be plenty of meaningful regular season games with the new NHL realignment reuniting the Rangers and Capitals by placing them in the same division — something that has not happened in decades.
Currently the Capitals are in second place in the new Metropolitan Division with 42 points, and the Rangers are sitting four points behind them in third with 38 points. Since the season is still just a few games away from the halfway point I can’t say this is a must win game for the Rangers, but it is certainly close enough to one.
For the Rangers to win this game tonight and leave D.C. with two extra points, the Rangers must continue to play defense first hockey like they have been recently. Unfortunately this Rangers team has not shown any type of consistency this season so I really don’t know what to expect from them.
If the Rangers want to beat the Capitals then they must find a way to bottle up Alexander Ovechkin (who has 30 goals on the season already) which they have been able to do in games past. Under new head coach Alain Vigneault the Rangers play a man to man style of defense, and since the Rangers have shown numerous times throughout this season that they are still used to playing former head coach John Tortorella‘s zone defense, that on top of Ovechkin being on fire could prove to be the death of the Rangers if they continue to be consistently inconsistent.
The Capitals do have weaknesses on defense as well, but if the Rangers get into a run and gun style game then they are just begging to lose. The right way to beat the Capitals, like the Rangers have shown in the past under Tortorella, is playing defense first by putting constant defensive pressure on the Capitals which will force them into making mistakes and then using those mistakes to fuel your offense.
All in all, Rangers cannot play the run and gun type of game that Vigneault likes to play simply because it is impossible with this current Rangers’ roster, and if they do so against the Capitals then those two points will be in the Capitals’ pocket. Defense first behind great goaltending and constant pressure are the keys in beating this Capitals team for the Rangers. This strategy needs to be implemented in every game for the Rangers because the way this current roster in configured this is how they play to their strengths and win hockey games.
It’s time for the Rangers to find consistency and string together points, and it is up to Vigneault and the players to realize that a strong commitment to defense is the only answer.