- Katie Strang, ESPN.com
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At a glance: The Rangers look to get back on track after one of their most demoralizing defeats of the season -- a 3-1 loss to the last-place Florida Panthers on Thursday -- but they’ll host a Washington Capitals team in the midst of an encouraging run. Though they have toiled at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings because of their slow start to the season, the Caps beat up on the Winnipeg Jets in back-to-back games heading into this weekend.
Sluggish starts: Speaking of slow starts, look for the Rangers to come out of the gates buzzing, as their first period will likely be a point of emphasis. The Rangers were too passive against the Panthers and have too often let their opponents dictate play in the opening frame.
Offensive outburst: In their last two wins, the Capitals outscored the Southeast-leading Jets by a whopping margin of 10-1 to pull within five points of the division lead and three points of the eighth (and last playoff) spot in the Eastern Conference. After struggling through stretches this season, Alex Ovechkin is back producing at a nice clip; the dynamic winger has seven points (five goals, two assists) over the past four games and a power-play goal in the last three.
Close call: The Rangers must be feeling a sense of relief to have star forward Rick Nash in the lineup for Sunday’s match. Nash escaped supplementary discipline for a questionable hit on Florida’s Tomas Kopecky Thursday night. So many people thought the hit, which wasn't penalized, deserved a suspension that the NHL’s Department of Player Safety felt compelled to release a video explaining why the play did NOT pass the threshold for a fine or ban. That’s good news for the Rangers, who went 0-3-1 when Nash was sidelined last month with injury.
Back in action: It’s not surprising that the Capitals’ recent surge has coincided with the return of two of their top players. Veteran center Brooks Laich made his season debut last week after missing the first half of the season with a groin injury. Defenseman Mike Green returned for the Caps on Thursday after missing almost a month, also with a groin injury.
Miller out: It appears rookie forward J.T. Miller will sit out Sunday’s game with a left wrist injury, sustained in Thursday’s loss to the Panthers. Miller left the game briefly but returned; he is considered day-to-day. The Rangers recalled Kris Newbury from the AHL’s Connecticut Whale.
36dPierre LeBrun and Joe McDonald