Just four days after getting claimed off waivers by the New York Rangers, veteran defenseman Roman Hamrlik will face his former team on Sunday when the Capitals try to extend their home winning streak to five games.
The 12:30 p.m. game will be televised nationally on NBC and features two teams battling for playoff position.
Hamrlik was a healthy scratch in 16 of the Capitals’ first 20 games this season but the 38-year-old Czech has played two games for the Blueshirts and is 15 games shy of hitting 1,400 in his NHL career. He also left a lasting impression on Caps rookie defenseman Tomas Kundratek, who hails from the Czech Republic and grew up watching Hamrlik, the all-time leader in games played by a Czech native.
“He was huge for me, helping me with everything,” Kundratek, 23, said. “I’m so happy for him that he can reach 1,400 games. It’s awesome. For me it meant a lot to be able to hang out with him, get to know him, and also play with him. I grew up under him so it’s awesome.”
Sunday’s game will be the Rangers’ first visit to Verizon Center since Game 6 of last spring’s Eastern Conference semifinals. The Capitals won that game to force a seventh game won by the Rangers in New York.
The Rangers [12-9-2] are coming off Friday night’s 3-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators and hold the eighth and final playoff spot in the East with 26 points. The Capitals [10-12-1] saw their three-game win streak snapped with a 5-2 loss on Long Island and remain five points behind the Rangers with 21 points.
Today’s game begins a four-game road trip for the Rangers, who played 15 of their first 23 games at Madison Square Garden, including a 2-1 win over the Capitals on Feb. 17. Following Sunday’s game in the nation’s capital, the Rangers will visit Buffalo, Winnipeg and Pittsburgh before returning home on March 17.
“Now it’s time to become road warriors,” Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh told the team’s website. “…You face a lot of adversity on the road and we seem to handle that really well.”
McDonagh is expected to see a heavy dose of Alex Ovechkin, who was held off the scoresheet on Long Island but has 10 points in his last seven games and is one point shy of reaching 700 career points. He currently has 699 points in 576 career games.
Six of Ovechkin’s nine goals this season have come on the power play, which ranks second in the NHL and is quarterbacked by Mike Ribeiro [19 assists] and Nicklas Backstrom [18 assists].
“There’s predictability, but if we execute it I don’t think it can be stopped,” Capitals coach Adam Oates said. “It’s like Tom Brady. He gets the ball 50 times, right? He gets five reads and you trust Tom Brady can make the correct read out of the five. We have two [Tom Bradys].”
Like the Rangers, the Capitals will hit the road following Sunday’s game. With 16 games in their next 29 days, 10 of them will be on the road, where they are just 3-7-1 this season.
Notes: The Capitals could be without rugged defenseman John Erskine, who did not return after the first period on Saturday and is being listed as day-to-day with an upper body injury. However, there is a chance forward Marcus Johansson is cleared to play his first game since suffering a concussion on Feb. 7.