When you look at the turns the Rangers and Capitals have seen this season, it’s crazy to think that both teams were considered Stanley Cup challengers. When they face off against each other tonight (7:30 p.m. ET on Versus) their roles are a bit different. After all, the Caps were the chic pick to make a run at the finals while the Rangers were more of a dark horse. Now those roles are quite different.
The Rangers have won five in a row and 12 of their last 16 games heading into tonight and they’ve been doing it because their superstars have played as such. Marian Gaborik has 22 goals, Brad Richards is playing the part of playmaker to a “T” and Henrik Lundqvist has been lights out in goal. Take those performances and match them up with getting great play from guys like Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto, Ryan Callahan, and Derek Stepan and you’ve got a team that looks poised to make a deep run in the postseason.
We’re sure John Tortorella can find something to be grumpy about somewhere.
The Capitals, meanwhile, have been a mess. They’ve lost 9 of their last 14 games, have been plagued by brutally inconsistent play all over the ice, and frustrated their fans like crazy. After all, going from a great performance to one where the team looks completely unmotivated makes the Caps look very average.
With as much talent as the Caps have, seeing guys like Tomas Vokoun, Alex Ovechkin, and Alexander Semin all struggle the way they have is maddening and it’s not helping Dale Hunter look like the savior as head coach. A win tonight for Washington would be a nice start for them, but to make it count they have to string them together in bunches. Doing that against this year’s Rangers is asking a lot.
There’s another Raffl in the NHL.
On Tuesday, the Jets announced that Thomas Raffl — the older brother of Flyers forward Michael Raffl — has signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $575,000.
Raffl, 29, was in Winnipeg’s camp on a PTO after a lengthy career in Europe. He spent time playing in Sweden and his native Austria, most recently with powerhouse EC Red Bull Salzburg — last year, Raffl scored 53 points in 52 games for Salzburg and three in seven games for Austria while serving as team captain at the World Hockey Championships.
“We would like to recognize and express our appreciation to the EC Red Bull Salzburg organization for allowing Thomas and the Winnipeg Jets this opportunity,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a statement.
With the Jets, Raffl projects to play in the bottom-six forward group, where he can utilize his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame in a checking-slash-energy role.
For now, though, he’ll start out with the club’s AHL affiliate in Manitoba.
Seven defensemen will comprise the Philadelphia Flyers’ opening-day roster, which the club finalized today.
Those seven are Radko Gudas, Michael Del Zotto, Luke Schenn, Nick Schultz, Brandon Manning, Mark Streit, and Evgeny Medvedev.
Not on the list? Andrew MacDonald, who has cleared waivers and been assigned to AHL Lehigh Valley. (That move allowed the Flyers to keep both Manning and youngster Scott Laughton.)
Also not on the list were prospects Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, Sam Morin, Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim. The first three will start the season in the AHL. The last two have been sent back to junior.
But the opening-day roster is not where this story ends. How the Flyers’ defensive mix changes as the season progresses will be worth watching.
They’d no doubt love to move Schenn, a pending unrestricted free agent with a $3.6 million cap hit. He could also end up in the AHL, a la MacDonald.
Medvedev, the 33-year-old who came over from the KHL and put up five points in five preseason games, is another pending UFA. The club could either look to re-sign or flip him.
Might 37-year-old Streit be a chip worth cashing in at the deadline, especially if the Flyers aren’t in a playoff position on Feb. 29? He’s only got two years left on his contract.
Meanwhile, GM Ron Hextall will be watching pending restricted free agents Manning and Gudas closely. Are they part of the future?
So, lots of decisions to make in Philly as the blue line continues its much-needed transition.