Capitals-Rangers Preview

BY foxsports • January 8, 2016

It's been an impressive first half of the season for the Washington Capitals, who appear en route to running away with the Metropolitan Division.

Red-hot Washington can put even more distance between it and one of its pursuers when it tries for a second straight victory over the New York Rangers on Saturday.

The Capitals (30-7-3) moved one point ahead of slumping Dallas for the NHL lead with a 4-1 victory over the New York Islanders on Thursday, giving them an 11-1-1 record in their last 13 and 18-2-2 mark in 22. Washington, completing a five-game road trip Saturday, is a league-best 15-4-2 away from home.

Alex Ovechkin scored his 497th goal and Braden Holtby stopped 34 shots for the Capitals, who have given up two or fewer goals nine times in the past 13 and are second in the league with 2.13 non-shootout goals allowed per game.

''Our goal is to finish as high as we can in the standings to give us the best opportunity in the playoffs,'' said Holtby, 18-0-2 with a 1.83 goals-against average in his last 21 starts. ''We were definitely tested, our blocking and our protection in front of the net.''

With Saturday's contest marking the halfway point of Washington's season, it leads the Islanders by 14 points and the Rangers by 15.

"We've played a lot of good games. We've been consistent and that's something that's huge for us," defenseman Karl Alzner said of the first half. "We've struggled with it in the past, and we've always found ways to lose three, four, five games in a row at some point in the years before and we've done a really good job of bringing the same effort night after night (this season).

"We're happy with that, but it's only halfway."

Inconsistency has instead plagued the Rangers (22-14-4) throughout 2015-16, and that's certainly been the case recently. They've alternated wins and losses in the last five, bouncing back from a 3-0 road loss to Florida last Saturday with a 6-2 home victory over the Stars on Tuesday.

''Our process has been getting better,'' coach Alain Vigneault said after Derek Stepan scored two goals and Rick Nash had three assists.

''We are playing better hockey right now. Our execution and our battle level are better.''

The team defense has also been somewhat better, with New York allowing seven goals in the past three after giving up five or more six times in the previous eight.

''Hopefully we are moving in the right direction,'' said Henrik Lundqvist, who stopped 21 shots.

One of those eight games came against Washington, a 7-3 loss at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 20 in which Justin Williams had two goals and an assist and five other Capitals scored. Lundqvist was chased after two periods and five goals.

The Capitals dropped the first meeting of the season 5-2 on Nov. 3, also at MSG.

Holtby, expected to start Saturday, has gone 2-4-0 with a 3.38 GAA in his last six games in the series.

Ovechkin has a seven-game goal streak against the Rangers, scoring eight times in that span.

Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and an assist against the Islanders and has recorded two and three in a four-game point streak. He had three assists Dec. 20.

Center Marcus Johansson has five goals and six assists in his last 10 games. He has three goals and two assists in his past three against the Rangers.