Washington Capitals right wing Tom Wilson (43) celebrates after scoring on the Detroit Red Wings during the second period on November 23 at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. Photo by Alex Edelman/UPI | License Photo
NEW YORK -- The Washington Capitals are right around where they expected to be Thanksgiving weekend. The New York Rangers are not where anyone could have imagined as turkey leftovers are consumed.
The Rangers will look to continue cementing their status as one of the NHL's biggest surprises Saturday afternoon, when they host the Capitals at Madison Square Garden.
The game will be the second part of a back-to-back for both teams. The visiting Rangers had their three-game winning streak snapped when they fell to the Philadelphia Flyers 4-0 Friday afternoon, a few hours before the host Capitals earned their fourth straight win by beating the Detroit Red Wings, 3-1.
The results, coupled with the Columbus Blue Jackets' 4-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, further jumbled the already crowded top of the Metropolitan Division, The first-place Blue Jackets are one point ahead of the Capitals (12-7-3), who are one point ahead of the third-place Rangers (12-9-2) who in turn are a point ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes and two points ahead of the New York Islanders.
The top five Metro teams are all in action Saturday night - the Islanders host the Hurricanes - so the Capitals or Rangers could be anywhere from first to fourth by Sunday morning.
For the Rangers, who finished in last place in 2017-18, to have a chance at moving into first place, they'll need to ensure Saturday's loss - the first shutout absorbed this season by New York - is an aberration and not the start of a trend.
"We really didn't have our legs, from the get-go, and over 82 games, you're going to have stinkers." Rangers coach David Quinn told reporters afterward. "And I put this in the stinker category. We were a little bit slow in everything we did - we were slow skating, we were slow thinking, we were slow shooting.
The defending Stanley Cup champion Capitals got off to a slow start following a summer-long celebration of the franchise's first title. But Washington, which had three two-game losing streaks within the first 16 games, is 5-1-0 since its most recent mini-skid.
The Capitals might be heating up at the right time. The game against the Rangers marks the first of three straight divisional contests for Washington, which visits the Islanders Monday and hosts the New Jersey Devils next Friday.
The New York trip will also serve as the Capitals' annual "Mentor Trip" in which players bring along their fathers or father figure types.
"It's definitely a highlight for most guys, this trip, and we wanted to make sure we start it off on a strong foot," said Capitals right winger Tom Wilson, who scored a goal Friday.
Franchise goalies Henrik Lundqvist and Braden Holtby each started for the Rangers and Capitals, respectively, on Friday, which means backups Alexandar Georgiev and Pheonix Copley are likely to start in net Saturday afternoon.
Georgiev authored his first NHL shutout in his most recent start Wednesday night, when he stopped all 29 shots he faced as the Rangers routed the Islanders, 5-0.
Copley last played Monday, when he was pulled after allowing four goals on 22 shots in a little more than a period in the Capitals' 5-4 win over the Montreal Canadiens. It was the fourth straight start for Copley, who was pressed into duty when Holtby suffered an upper body injury.
Georgiev took the defeat in his only career appearance against the Capitals on March 26, when he was chased after allowing three goals on six shots in just 8:54 in the Rangers' 4-2 loss. Copley has never faced the Rangers.