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Streaking Caps, Rangers square off
WASHINGTON -- A pair of streaking Metropolitan Division rivals face off when the Washington Capitals host the New York Rangers on Friday night.
Both the Capitals (17-11-1) and the Rangers (15-10-2) have won six of their last seven games and are among six teams within four points of each other in the division.
Washington is coming off a 6-2 dismantling of the visiting Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday night. The Capitals' surge has been fueled by a spate of home cooking and the reunion of veteran stars Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom on the top line.
Since the reunion, Ovechkin has eight goals in seven games. He has 21 overall after finishing with just 33 a year ago. After scoring only 16 even-strength goals in 2016-17, he already has 15.
"Just skating," Capitals head coach Barry Trotz said of Ovechkin's success. "When he's skating he's effective. And I just think he's skating better."
The whole line has been effective. Backstrom has been piling up assists since the reunion, and Wednesday he ended a 21-game stretch without a goal. The third member, 23-year-old winger Tom Wilson, had two goals and two assists against the Blackhawks for his first four-point game.
"He is starting to realize how he has to play, especially with a center like Backy," Ovechkin said of Wilson. "He just does his job, play physical, stay real calm with the puck and try to make offense."
Capitals forward Andre Burakovsky is expected to return Friday night. He has missed 20 games since breaking his thumb in late October.
"That's the word on the street," Burakovsky told the Washington Post. "Talked to (Trotz), and I'm cleared to go. He told me I can play next game. I was hoping maybe the game before, but I needed a couple more practices."
Forward T.J. Oshie (upper-body injury) is doubtful for Friday night.
Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist is expected to return against the Capitals after missing Tuesday's win over Pittsburgh due to an illness.
"Felt a lot better (Wednesday), today pretty close to back to normal," Lundqvist told reporters after Thursday's practice. "Good morning skate (Friday) and I'm ready."
Lundqvist is 21-11-4 with a 2.61 goals-against average and .909 save percentage versus Washington.
Friday's game marks the return of defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk to Washington. Acquired by the Capitals prior to last season's trade deadline, the move didn't pan out. Shattenkirk had two goals and 12 assists in 19 regular-season games. He added a goal and five assists in 13-playoff games and signed with the Rangers in the offseason.
"It worked in areas. He helped our power play. He made it more dangerous," Trotz told reporters Thursday. "I think everybody thought of him as a 1-2, and he really wasn't. He was a little lower. I think it worked out OK."
Shattenkirk is tied for fourth on New York with 20 points (five goals, 15 assists).
"We got exactly what we thought," Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said. "A skilled player who can help us on the power play and a great person, great teammate who can help us in our dressing room."
New York's leading scorer, Mika Zibanejad, is expected to miss his fourth game with a concussion.
The teams are meeting for the first time this season after splitting four games in 2016-17.
Ovechkin has 45 points (29 goals, 16 assists) in 48 career games against the Rangers. He has scored 22 goals against Lundqvist, the most he has scored against a goaltender in his career.
Meanwhile, New York's Ryan McDonagh (2-16-18 in 25 games against the Capitals) has recorded more career assists and points against Washington than against any other NHL opponent.
The Rangers have won four of their last six road games, while the Capitals are 3-1 on their season-long five-game homestand.
Capitals goalie Braden Holtby is 8-9-1 with a 2.47 GAA and .918 save percentage against New York.
Updated December 7, 2017
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