Pregame primer: 'I'm begging we don't get hurt'

Pregame primer: 'I'm begging we don't get hurt'
December 27, 2013, 4:45 pm
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Dec 23, 2013; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom (19) celebrates with Capitals right wing Alex Ovechkin (8) after scoring a goal against the Anaheim Ducks in the first period at Verizon Center.

(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

News and notes as Capitals [19-14-4] take on the visiting New York Rangers [18-18-2] tonight at VerizonCenter [7 p.m., CSN]:

Welcome back: After three full days off, which is mandated by the new CBA, the Caps and Rangers get back to business tonight. In fact, the Rangers flew into D.C. earlier this morning. “I’m a little concerned,” Oates said. “I think three days off is crazy, I do. And then all of a sudden we have to play three in four nights. I’m begging we don’t get hurt. I hope for their sake they don’t get hurt.”

How I spent my Christmas vacation: Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said he spent three days in Miami during the break. “I took a little bit of a vacation,” he said. “I went to Miami with my friends and had some good days there.” Ovechkin leads the NHL in goals [30], power-play goals [12] and shots [183]. Ovechkin said he did not speak with Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau during Anaheim’s visit to D.C. on Monday.

[MORE: Grubauer gets the call]

Rookie vs. rookie: Barring a last-minute change, it will be Capitals rookie goaltender Philipp Grubauer [4-1-1, 2.20 GAA, .934 save percentage] facing Rangers rookie netminder Cam Talbot [8-2-0, 1.60, .938]. In his first NHL start of the season Grubauer, 22, stopped 31 shots in a 4-1 win over the Rangers on Dec. 8 in New York. Talbot, 26, won six of his first seven starts this season. He has never faced the Caps.

Appeasing Hank: This will be the first time in seven years that Rangers veteran Henrik Lundqvist [10-15-2, 2.77, .905] will go three straight games without a start. He missed three straight from Dec. 17-21, 2006. “It’s tough,” Lundqvist told reporters on Friday. “You want to be out there and playing. You want to play well, and you want to win, but in the end, it’s about the team and it’s about winning. Cam’s playing really well, and the team’s playing really well. So I just have to put myself aside.”

Trending: The Caps have lost two in a row and are 2-2-2 in their last six. The Rangers have won two in a row and are 3-4-2 in their last nine. The second-place Caps are four points ahead of the fourth-place Rangers in the Metropolitan Division.

Torts vs. Vigneault: Several Caps said the Rangers play a more open style of hockey under Alain Vigneault than they did under John Tortorella ,who coached the Rangers to playoff victories over the Caps the past two springs. “They don’t block the shots they usually block,” Ovechkin said. “Before, they lay down all the time to block shots. Now there’s more open space.” The Rangers’ goals for and goals against are virtually the same this year as they were under Tortorella. The biggest difference is on special teams. Their power play jumped from 15.7 percent last year to 18.6 percent this year, and their penalty kill jumped from 81.1 percent to 85.5 percent.

[RELATED: Laich back in 'holding pattern']

Milestone hunters: Alex Ovechkin’s next assist will move him past Dale Hunter [375] for third on the Caps’ franchise assist list, behind Mike Gartner [392] and Michal Pivonka [418]. Ovechkin needs 72 goals to pass Peter Bondra  [472] and become the franchise leader in goals; 44 assists to pass Pivonka and become the all-time leader in assists; and 50 points to pass Gartner [789] and Bondra [825] as the franchise leader in points.

On a smaller scale: Tonight will be Eric Fehr’s 300th game as a Capital; Mike Green needs one assist for 200 in the NHL; and Marty Erat is three points shy of his 500th in the NHL.

Brouwer power: Troy Brouwer has an assist in four straight games, the longest assist streak of his career. He also leads the Caps in hits [104].

U-S-A: Capitals forward prospect Riley Barber scored the first goal for Team USA in its 5-1 rout of the CzechRepublic in the opening game of the World Junior Championships in Malmo, Sweden on Thursday. Barber, who won gold in the WJCs last year, is captain of this year’s team. Here’s an interview with Barber after the game.