Facing Alexander Ovechkin and the Capitals on Tuesday night at the Garden will almost be like looking in the mirror for the Rangers.
The home team will enter the game as winners of eight of its past 10 games, while the visitors can one-up that stat as winners of nine of their past 10. Both clubs were in very different places just a month ago, and both started stringing victories together at the right time to catch up in the standings.
Despite the fact that the Rangers have a game in hand, one point separates the Blueshirts and the Capitals in the Metropolitan Division heading into Tuesday’s contest. If the season were to end today, the Rangers would be in the No. 1 wild-card spot and Washington would be in the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference.
It’s become abundantly clear that every division game is going to be crucial in the Metropolitan standings, which is already neck-and-neck among six of the eight teams. And this will be the first of four meetings between the Rangers and the Capitals.
Ovechkin will take the ice at the World’s Most Famous Arena in the middle of his pursuit to break hockey’s most famous record. The veteran scoring machine collected goals No. 801 and No. 802 just before the holiday break to surpass the great Gordie Howe and step into the No. 2 spot on the NHL’s all-time list. Wayne Gretzky, of course, is the holder of the once-believed-untouchable record of 894 goals.
With points in eight of the Capitals’ past 10 games, including five multi-point showings, Ovechkin is still scoring at the torrid pace with which he came into the NHL 17 years ago. He has put up at least one point in 23 of 36 games this season, has recorded at least one shot in every game this season and hasn’t been held to zero shots since Nov. 11 last season. That was was also the only game he didn’t record a shot in during the Capitals’ entire 2021-22 campaign.
The 37-year-old Ovechkin’s quest for greatness deserves respect, but the Rangers cannot get caught giving their opponent too much respect.
Not that playing overly respectful has been an issue for the Rangers this season, but getting caught up in momentum swings has. A historic goal from Ovechkin at a big moment in the game is certainly one of those types of situations the Rangers need to be wary of — and prepared for.
Much like the Rangers’ first couple months of the season, the Capitals got off to a rocky start with a 10-12-4 record. The Rangers were in the same boat, sitting on the outside looking in on the playoff picture, at 11-10-5. The only other teams in the Metro that had as strong of a finish as the Rangers and Capitals did heading into the four-day layoff were the first-place Hurricanes and the third-place Penguins.
Now, the Rangers are right behind Pittsburgh, which has two games in hand, in fourth with the same 43 points. Washington is also right there in fifth place at 42 points.
Both the Rangers and Capitals fought to get back into the thick of the competition and have earned a sort of second chance for their season. Both teams will be looking to make it count going forward.
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