Rangers-Capitals Preview

Signing a rich contract earlier this month appeared to cement

Henrik Lundqvist as the New York Rangers’ franchise goaltender for

the foreseeable future.

Cam Talbot’s superior play, however, will keep the Vezina Trophy

winner on the bench for a third straight game.

After winning back-to-back contests with Talbot in net just

before the Christmas break, the backup will get the start again as

the Rangers open a five-game road trip against the Washington

Capitals on Friday night.

Lundqvist signed a seven-year, $59.5 million contract extension

to become the highest-paid goaltender in the NHL, but he hasn’t

lived up to that lofty status this season. He’s gone 2-4-2 with a

3.41 goals-against average in eight games since inking the deal

Dec. 4, losing his most recent appearance 5-3 to the New York

Islanders at home last Friday after giving up four goals on 19

shots.

Talbot helped New York (18-18-2) bounce back by beating

Minnesota 4-1 on Sunday before defeating Toronto 2-1 in a shootout

the following day. He totaled 49 saves in those games and made two

more in the tiebreaker against the Maple Leafs as the Rangers

completed a 3-4-2 homestand.

“I’m just trying to go out there and give the guys a chance

whenever I get the opportunity,” Talbot told the team’s official

website. “Hopefully, we can come out of the Christmas break on the

same note.”

Talbot will be making a third straight start for the first time

this season. He’s 8-2-0 with a 1.60 GAA and two shutouts in 12

games – 10 starts.

“It’s about winning. It’s about this team getting points. He’s

doing really well,” Lundqvist said Monday. “I have to push myself

to be a little bit better to help the team get points here. Then,

I’ll get more starts.”

Lundqvist has posted shutouts in his last two games at

Washington, including a 35-save performance in a 5-0 win in Game 7

of the opening round of last season’s playoffs.

He wasn’t nearly that effective in a 4-1 home loss to the

Capitals on Dec. 8, though, making 32 stops. For one more game at

least, he’ll play a supporting role.

“Cam has come in here with a calmness and a belief in himself,

and that is something we saw right away,” defenseman Anton Stralman

told the team’s official website Friday. “We have a goalie that

trusts himself, so we trust in him, too. He’s been playing really

well.”

While the Rangers may be hoping for some consistency from their

star, the Capitals (19-14-4) have certainly received plenty from

Alex Ovechkin. The three-time Hart Trophy winner leads the NHL with

30 goals and is tied with Anaheim’s Corey Perry and Pittsburgh’s

Evgeni Malkin for fifth with 41 points.

Ovechkin, though, hasn’t scored a goal on 37 shots over eight

straight meetings with the Rangers, including playoffs. He was held

off the score sheet by Anaheim in Monday’s 3-2 loss after totaling

eight goals and two assists in the previous six contests.

Washington squandered a two-goal first-period lead to the Ducks

for its second straight loss.

“It was just a couple of mistakes that cost us the win,” center

Nicklas Backstrom said. “Overall, I thought we played all right.

But it’s hard to say you played all right when you lose.”

Backstrom has assisted on 12 goals while scoring three of his

own over the past seven games, but he’s also struggled against New

York, failing to get a point in four straight meetings with one

assist over the last six.

Mikhail Grabovski has 10 points in 10 games, including a goal on

a penalty shot against Lundqvist to cap a three-goal second period

Dec. 8.