Ovechkin Callahan

Tale of the Tape: Capitals vs. Rangers

On Sunday, the Washington Capitals will take on the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden (12:30 p.m ET, NBC) — here’s a look at recent history between the two clubs.

New York: 35-13-5, 1st in Atlantic Division. Leading scorer: Marian Gaborik (26G-18A-44PTS)

Washington: 28-21-5, 2nd in Southeast Division. Leading scorer: Alex Ovechkin (23G-20A-43PTS)

The teams have split the season series 1-1.

Nov. 25, 2011 — Rangers 6, Capitals 3. New York matched its season high for goals in a single game on the strength of two goals from Ruslan Fedotenko and three assists from the game’s first star, Ryan Callahan. Interesting to note that, just three days after this loss — a game in which Bruce Boudreau said the Caps were “feeling sorry” for themselves — Boudreau was fired and replaced by Dale Hunter.

Dec. 28, 2011 — Capitals 4, Rangers 1. Washington registered a big win behind Alex Semin’s two-goal performance, but the victory came with an asterisk as it was backup Martin Biron in goal, not Henrik Lundqvist. No disrespect to Biron (who’s had a very solid season) but Lundqvist has been brilliant this season — he’s probably the leading Vezina candidate and could even get some MVP consideration if New York continues to reign atop the Eastern Conference.

Playoff History

Much of the malice between the two clubs stems from the playoffs, as the Caps and Rangers have met twice over the last three preseasons.

2011: Washington wins 4-1 — The Caps entered as the No. 1 seed in the East and took care of a Rangers team that gave them fits in the regular season (New York won the season series 3-1,winning the last three games by a combined score of 15–1.) Washington didn’t TCOB very easily, though — two of the five games were decided in overtime and none were decided by more than two goals. The Rangers’ biggest downfall was a lack of offense as they only scored eight goals throughout the entire series with Brian Boyle, Derek Stepan and Fedotenko all failing to register a point.

2009: Washington wins 4-3 — This was the series that started it all. The Caps fell behind 3-1 thanks to some stellar goaltending from Lundqvist and poor goaltending from Jose Theodore, who was eventually pulled in favor of Semyon Varlamov. Game 5 proved to be the turning point as the Caps won 4-0, chasing Lundqvist from the net and rattling the suspect New York offense (held to just 20 shots on goal.) Washington rallied and completed the stunning comeback with under five minutes to go in the third period of Game 7, when Sergei Fedorov scored the game-winning goal in a 2-1 Caps victory.

Of note: This was John Tortorella’s first playoff series as Rangers head coach — it was also the scene of his infamous altercation with a fan that got him suspended for Game 6.

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock
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ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”

It looks like Havlat won’t make Panthers

Martin Havlat

As PHT’s mentioned before, the Florida Panthers stand as a fascinating contrast between youth and experience.

Let’s not kid ourselves, though; fresh faces usually beat out gray beards, at least when it comes to teams that are still trying to build toward contender status.

While it’s by no means official, two Panthers beat writers – the Miami Herald’s George Richards and the Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Harvey Fialkov – report that the Panthers are likely to pass on Martin Havlat.

It wasn’t just about the likes of Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad leading the charge. Other young Panthers (maybe most notably Quinton Howden and Connor Brickley) made the team, thus making Havlat less necessary.

One would assume that it might be tough for the 34-year-old to find work, at least if he insists upon only an NHL deal.

Health issues continue to dog him, but he’s no longer one of those guys who tantalizes with talent when he is healthy enough to play.

Havlat also doesn’t really bring much to the table defensively. While other veterans can kill penalties and show a little more verstaility, Havlat’s greatest selling point is scoring.

Could this be it for a solid career that may nonetheless end with a “What if?” or two?