Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers will face Alexander Ovechkin and the Capitals, a matchup that resembles a reflection.
The home club will enter the game having won eight of its previous 10 games, while the visitors have won nine of their previous 10. Just a month ago, both teams were in vastly different positions, yet both began to string together victories just in time to catch up in the standings.
Even though the Rangers have a game in hand, they trail the Capitals by one point in the Metropolitan Division heading into Tuesday’s matchup. If the season ended today, the Rangers would be the top wild-card team in the Eastern Conference, while the Nationals would be second.
In the Metropolitan rankings, which are currently neck-and-neck among six of the eight teams, it has become plainly evident that every division game will be essential. The Rangers and the Capitals will meet four times in total.
Ovechkin will take the ice at the World’s Most Famous Arena while attempting to break the most prestigious record in hockey. Just before the holiday break, the veteran scoring machine scored goals 801 and 802 to past the great Gordie Howe and move into the No. 2 slot on the NHL’s all-time list. Wayne Gretzky is the current holder of the 894-goal record that was once thought to be unbreakable.
Ovechkin has recorded points in eight of the Capitals’ last ten games, including five multi-point outings, and is still scoring at the same frenetic rate he displayed when he entered the NHL 17 years ago. This season, he has scored at least one point in 23 of 36 games, has registered at least one shot in every game, and has not been held without a shot since November 11 of last year. This was the first game he did not record a shot in throughout the whole 2021-22 season with the Capitals.
The 37-year-old Ovechkin’s pursuit of greatness merits respect, but the Rangers must avoid giving their opponent undue deference.
Not that playing with excessive respect has been a problem for the Rangers this season, but momentum shifts have. A circumstance in which Ovechkin scores a historic goal in a crucial moment of the game is one in which the Rangers must be cautious and prepared.
Similar to the Rangers’ initial couple of months of the season, the Capitals began the year with a 10-12-4 record. At 11-10-5, the Rangers were in the same position, on the outside of the postseason picture. Only the first-place Hurricanes and third-place Penguins in the Metropolitan Division finished as strongly as the Rangers and Capitals did prior to the four-day hiatus.
Now, the Rangers sit in fourth place with the same 43 points as Pittsburgh, which has two games in hand. Washington is also in close proximity at fifth place with 42 points.
The left flank of the Washington Capitals Alex Ovechkin (8) celebrates with goaltender Charlie Lindgren of the Capitals.
Both the Rangers and Capitals fought their way back into contention and have earned a second shot for the remainder of the season. Going forward, both teams will be eager to make an impact.