The general sentiment among members of the Washington Capitals following their uninspired 5-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday was that they were mentally unprepared, a disconcerting admission considering it was a game against a divisional opponent nipping at their proverbial heels.
As it sat idle on Saturday, Washington fell into fifth place in the cramped Metropolitan Division and out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Having lost 11 of their past 15 games, the Capitals know full well that finding a renewed sense of focus is vital.
"This is our job," defenseman John Carlson said. "This is what we have to do in big games, every game. We need to show up and not go through the motions. I think there was a little bit of that as far as our game went with details last game, but we do have a lot of good stuff to pull from. We're a close team and we certainly need to overcome this."
The Capitals will have a chance to snap their third four-game losing streak of the season against the New York Rangers on Sunday. New York, much like the rest of the Metropolitan Division, is in the midst of a surge, having won 10 of 14.
When the Capitals last visited Madison Square Garden on Dec. 8, they put in one of their most complete performances of the season in a 4-1 victory, something that they will look to -- and to be frank, need to -- replicate.
"We always seem to play well in here, so that'll be good for us to get in this atmosphere and get going again," left wing Jason Chimera said. "We need a big win coming out of here to salvage some of this road trip for sure.
"We need points. You look at the standings and how they're so close. ... You've got to move [up the standings]. If you don't move now, you're going to find yourself too far behind. No better night than tonight."
-- Philipp Grubauer will start for Washington, his 14th in the team's past 20 games. Grubauer earned his first NHL victory against the Rangers last month, stopping 30 shots. Late last month, Grubauer defeated the Rangers again, making 38 saves in a 3-2 win on Dec. 27.
Coach Adam Oates pulled Grubauer early in the second period against the Blue Jackets after allowing three goals on 14 shots, but he did not place the blame on the 22-year-old.
"I didn't take him out [Friday] for his play," Oates said. "I took him out for our play. He got a rest and he's back."
-- Oates has shuffled his forward lines, reuniting Marcus Johansson, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, but splitting up Chimera and Joel Ward for the first time this season. Oates' hope is that adding the fleet-footed Chimera to the top six will counteract the Rangers' speedy lineup.
“They’ve got [Carl] Hagelin and [Chris] Kreider, two really fast guys,” he said. “That line’s going to see one of those [New York] lines so we’re going throw some speed back at them.”
Here is the rest of the Capitals' projected lineup:
Marcus Johansson - Nicklas Backstrom - Alex Ovechkin
Jason Chimera - Mikhail Grabovski - Troy Brouwer
Martin Erat - Brooks Laich - Joel Ward
Eric Fehr - Jay Beagle - Tom Wilson
Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Mike Green
John Erskine - Connor Carrick
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