Rangers-Capitals Preview

Not only have the New York Rangers been a middling team in

recent seasons, but they’re the only club the Washington Capitals

have managed to eliminate in the playoffs.

The sputtering Capitals, however, would much prefer to be in New

York’s position now.

The Eastern Conference-leading Rangers look to extend their

latest winning streak to six Wednesday night in Washington, where

they begin a three-game road trip leading up to next week’s Winter

Classic.

The Capitals won last season’s outdoor game 3-1 in Pittsburgh en

route to a fourth consecutive Southeast Division title. They

dispatched the Rangers in the first round of the postseason for the

second time in three years – their only playoff series wins since

1998 – before being were swept by Tampa Bay in the East

semifinals.

That seems to have set a tone for Washington’s surprisingly sour

2011-12 season, which has included the firing of coach Bruce

Boudreau and tepid production from star Alex Ovechkin.

The two-time Hart Trophy winner scored Monday but went a 23rd

consecutive game without multiple points in a 4-2 loss at

Buffalo.

Washington (17-15-2) is 8-13-2 in that stretch and sits in 11th

place in the East. A terrible start coming out of the Christmas

break was the culprit Monday, as the Sabres chased Michal Neuvirth

and took a 4-0 lead by the end of the first period.

“We have to put the blame on us,” forward Matt Hendricks said.

“We need to become a better team from the start of games.”

The Rangers (22-8-4) were plenty good throughout a 3-0 win over

the New York Islanders on Monday, riding two goals from rookie Carl

Hagelin and 28 saves from Henrik Lundqvist to their fifth straight

victory.

They’ve outscored opponents 18-7 during their third win streak

of at least this length since Oct. 31, which they’d love to carry

to Florida on Friday and then to Philadelphia for Monday’s Winter

Classic.

Coach John Tortorella, however, seems to want to keep the praise

muted.

“We have some work to do as a club as far as our consistency,”

Tortorella said. “We have some people chipping in, but we have to

get some other guys going also.”

Among those contributing are Marian Gaborik, whose 22 goals

match his total from all of his 62 games last season, and

defenseman Michael Del Zotto, who has five points in his last three

contests and ranks among the NHL leaders with a plus-25 rating.

New York figures to be even more formidable if it can get

standout defenseman Marc Staal back in the lineup. The team leader

in ice time each of the last two seasons hasn’t played in 2011-12

due to the lingering effects of a concussion, but he was cleared

for contact this week.

In the meantime, players like Ryan McDonagh and Anton Stralman

have helped pick up the slack.

“There is great depth in this organization,” Hagelin said.

“There’s a lot of guys out and it shows that the organization is

doing a great job preparing guys for this. It’s fun.”

It also helps having Lundqvist, 13-4-1 with a 1.77 goals-against

average since the beginning of November. That includes a 6-3

victory at Washington on Nov. 25, just his sixth win in 15 career

visits including postseason.

Ruslan Fedotenko scored twice and Ryan Callahan had three

assists in that contest.

Considering Neuvirth struggled both that night and Monday, Tomas

Vokoun could make his first start since Dec. 13 on Wednesday.

Vokoun is 5-2-1 with a 1.72 GAA in his last eight outings against

the Rangers.