New York Rangers (+122) at Washington Capitals (-135, 5 o/u)
The NHL’s best team, the Washington Capitals (47-12-4, 98 pts), will take the ice tonight looking for their 48th win of the season when they host their division rivals, the New York Rangers (37-21-6, 80 pts), at the Verizon Center in DC (7:00 PM Eastern).
Washington’s been spurred to the best record in the league thanks to its NHL-leading offense, which averages 3.3 goals per game. The team has also been exceptional on special teams, as well, boasting the top-ranked power play and fourth-best penalty kill. Going 12-4 since the start of February, they enter tonight’s clash on a two-game winning-streak that includes victories over Pittsburgh (3-2) and Toronto (3-2).
The Rangers, on the other hand, are struggling to find any sort of consistency. They had been riding a three-game win-streak, but fell 4-1 to the Penguins last time out. They’re a decent 6-3-1 in the last ten, but remain 18 points back of the historically good Capitals in the Metropolitan division.
Ranger forward Rick Nash is having a down year, by his standards (12 goals and 33 points in 48 games), but youngsters Mats Zuccarello (21 goals, 48 points) and Derick Brassard (22 goals, 46 points) have kept the New York offense (2.8 GPG) respectable. And that’s been key to the team’s modest success this year, as the usually stingy squad is surrendering over 2.5 GPG.
This is the fifth and last game between the Capitals and Rangers this season. Washington leads the series 3-1, outscoring New York 18-6 in the last three games of the series.
New York had to turn to backup goalie Antti Raanta in the third period of Thursday’s meeting against the Penguins after Henrik Lundqvist suffered a neck injury. Raanta (6-4, .913 SV%) is expected to start tonight. Braden Holtby, who’s having an outstanding season (40-7-3, .923 SV%) and was recently named to Team Canada’s World Cup of Hockey roster, will get the nod again for the Caps.
Sportsbooks tend to think of New York as an elite defensive team still, setting the o/u at 5 (versus 5.5) for many Ranger games. In truth, this isn’t the same tight-checking team it used to be, as evidenced by the fact that the total has gone over in five of the last six Ranger/Capital games. Add in the fact that Holtby only has an .877 save-percentage against NYR this year, and rolling with the over looks like the play (especially if Raanta is in net).
Pick: OVER (5).
(Photo credit: “Me” (Own work) [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons.)