Two East Division teams with playoff hopes drop the puck Thursday night when the New York Rangers (3-4-2) host the Washington Capitals (6-1-3). Most sportsbooks are listing the game as a pick’em, despite their positioning at opposite ends of the standings.
The Capitals have had a weird start to the season. They picked up points in each of their first five games before COVID-19 protocol forced four key players, including Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, and Ilya Samsonov, to miss several games. It is unclear if anyone other than Samsonov tested positive for the virus. Kuznetsov and Samsonov are still out, while Ovechkin and Orlov have returned to the ice.
Washington somehow stayed afloat in the East Division and are one point behind the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers for first place.
The Rangers are in a clear rebuild stage and need more production from their young players. Kaapo Kakko, the second overall pick in 2019, and Alexis Lafrenière, the first overall pick in 2020, have combined for three goals and no assists this season.
The Rangers currently sit tied for last in the East with the New York Islanders, two points behind the Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils.
Washington Capitals Betting Preview
With Samsonov out, rookie goaltender Vítek Vaněček has stepped up in the net. Vaněček has posted a 5-1-2 record this season with a 2.94 GAA, and a .913 save percentage. He was named the NHL’s Rookie of the Month for January.
Nicklas Bäckström leads the team with five goals and eight assists so far this season, while defenseman John Carlson ranks fourth among NHL defensemen with 11 points this year (four goals, seven assists). Carlson was the runner-up for the 2020 Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman.
Defenseman Justin Schultz and winger Conor Sheary are also still sidelined with injuries.
New York Rangers Betting Preview
The Rangers haven’t been the favorite in many games this season, but tonight they will be. New York currently sits tied with the Islanders for dead last in the East division. The Rangers are 2-2 in their previous four games after splitting their back-to-back series with the Sabres and Penguins.
Now would be an excellent time for the Rangers to seize the moment and make a run up the standings with the Devils and Sabres both sidelined due to COVID-19 outbreaks amongst their teams. New York was scheduled to play the Devils on Saturday, but that game has been postponed.
Aside from their season-opening loss to the Islanders, all of the Rangers’ losses this season have come by one goal.
The Pick Is In
If the Capitals were playing with a full, healthy roster, this game would be a slam dunk pick for Washington. However, with Samsonov and Bäckström still sidelined, the scales tip a bit back towards the Rangers’ direction.
Still, the Capitals are the better team and will come away with the win Thursday night.
Free Pick: Washington Capitals (-108).
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