In case you need help firing up the Ranger hatred for tonight's game, let me provide this brief reminder of what transpired the last time these two teams got together at MSG:
With that out of the way, we can turn our attention to the game.
Three games into the season, it seems that the high-priced free agent playmaking center that was brought in to feed the superstar scorer isn't fitting exactly where the team might have initially thought he would, so he has wound up in the middle on the second line and the other free agent forward they acquired has landed the plum assignment as the pivot on the top line for the time being.
Oh, by the way, I'm talking about the Rangers - who'd you think I meant?
New York will spend more this season on Scott Gomez than the Caps will on their four centers combined, and so far all they have to show for that investment are a handful of shots on goal. Luckily (?) for the Blueshirts, they also threw enough money at Chris Drury to entice him to come to the Big Apple, and he has found a regular spot on Jaromir Jagr's left and has the team's only game-winning goal on the young season (shocking, I know).
But it's early, and the Rags have lost two close games on the road to two good teams (Ottawa and the Islanders). They're still considered in the minds of most to be among the Eastern Conference's elite teams, despite a questionable group of blueliners and a lack of depth past their top two lines. Their top six forwards (a group that includes the three players named above as well as Brendan Shanahan and Martin Straka), have the potential to be frightengly good once they gel (let's hope it takes at least a little longer), and in Henrik Lundqvist they have a Vezina-caliber netminder who can single-handedly win a game on any given night.
The Caps, as you know, come into the game a perfect 12-for-12 on the penalty kill this season. What you may not know is that despite all their All-Star forwards, the Rangers are 0-for-15 on the power play so far. Hopefully both trends continue on Friday night, but that may be even more difficult to achieve than it otherwise would be for the visitors if they have to play without their leader in short-handed ice time, Boyd Gordon, who left yesterday's practice with an undisclosed injury. If Gordo can't go, Brian Sutherby would likely get a game sweater (can we still call them sweaters?) for the first time this season.
If Sutherby does get in the lineup tonight, perhaps he'll take the opportunity to renew acquaintances with Ryan Hollweg. Of course, that likely would only be an undercard to the main event:
I expect this to be the toughest test yet for the undefeated Capitals, and it certainly will serve as a good early-season measuring stick. A Friday night in Manhattan - what could be better?
Elsewhere 'Round the Rinks (and Beyond):
Contrary to popular (and by "popular" I mean "my") belief, the Caps could be on the hook for a portion of Jagr's salary next year too, according to Tarik.... Newsday notes Nylander's return to the Big Apple.... USA Today's Kevin Allen has an interesting read on next summer's class of Restricted Free Agents.... The Sens have sent Ray Emery to the AHL on a conditioning assignment, where he'll face the Hershey Bears on Saturday night. Last year, the big club pounded him one of the two times the teams met, so I guess it's fair to let the kids take their shot at him.... Two Minutes For Blogging looks at the tough guys on each teams and the goons in the pipelines. Fun.... Even the Turkish media is impressed with the Caps' quick start.... Per the Hockey Hall of Fame's website, on this day in 1999, "Peter Bondra scored 3 times, including the tying and winning goals 58 seconds apart late in the 3rd period as the Capitals won 5-4 over the visiting Flyers. Bondra's 14th career hat tick made him the team's all-time leader (passing Mike Gartner)."... Finally, I don't usually read the obits, but check this one and tell me this guy didn't go out right.
- Hart: Erik Cole (2G, including the game-winner, 4 SOG, 4 hits)
- Ross: Matt Stajan (4 points)
- Norris: Brian Campbell (G, 2A, +2)
- Vezina: Tomas Vokoun (29-save shutout win)
- Richard: Radek Bonk, Fredrik Sjostrom (2G each)
- Calder: Martin Hanzal (Game-winning goal, A, +2, 3 SOG)
- Aiken: Kari Lehtonen (L, 5 goals allowed on 20 shots against in two periods of work)