NEW YORK -- Alex Ovechkin cracks into a slight smile when he is asked about facing Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi tonight at MadisonSquareGarden.
“They know me, I know them,” Ovechkin said after the Capitals’ morning skate Sunday at Madison Square Garden. “So, it’s not going to be a surprise.”
In his last 10 games against the Rangers, including last year’s playoff series won by New York in seven games, Ovechkin has one goal and is a minus-5.
A lot of that has to do with McDonagh and Girardi, who hop onto the ice every time Ovechkin’s name is called by Capitals coach Adam Oates. As a left defenseman, McDonagh takes on most of the responsibility of stopping Ovechkin, who leads the NHL with 34 goals but is pointless and a minus-3 against the Rangers this season.
“He’s a good skater,” Ovechkin said of McDonagh. “He’s not that tough, but his position-wise is pretty incredible.
“I don’t think they frustrate me more than somebody else. They just play position. You think you’re going to have space, but you’re not because as soon as you put your head down and take a step they’re right there. They’re good. They’re hard to play against. It’s a challenge for me.”
In an effort to infuse more offense into a team that has six goals in its last four games, Oates will reunite his top line of Ovechkin, Nicklas Bastrom and Marcus Johansson tonight.
His second line will have Jason Chimera with Mikhail Grabovski and Troy Brouwer, and his third unit will have Brooks Laich with Marty Erat on the left and Joel Ward on the right.
The fourth line will have Jay Beagle between Eric Fehr and Tom Wilson.
“When you’re not scoring 5-on-5 you’ve got to do something. Ultimately, when you get in the playoffs that’s how you score goals, 5-on-5.”
Thanks to a four-game losing streak punctuated by a 5-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Caps are now 10th in the Eastern Conference standings, but a win tonight would put them back in the top eight.
“That was the first game in a while we really stunk the joint out,” Chimera said. “No one played good. … We need a big win tonight to salvage this road trip. One win, you’re right back up there. If you don’t move now you’re going to find yourself too far behind.”
Between the pipes: Rookie Philipp Grubauer [6-3-5, 2.22, .931] will get the start tonight against Henrik Lundqvist [16-17-3, 2.58, .914]. In two career games against the Rangers, Grubauer is 2-0-0 with a 1.50 GAA and .958 save percentage. In 26 career games against the Caps, Lundqvist has a career mark of 15-8-3 with a 2.61 GAA and .906 save percentage.