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NHL Picks: Rangers get back on track with win over streaking Capitals

Welcome to NHL Picks where hockey writers Chris Peters and Adam Gretz share their predictions for all of the day’s games.

Washington Capitals at New York Rangers, 7 p.m. ET, NHL Network

The Washington Capitals have been one of the league’s most dominant teams over the last month having lost just three games since Nov. 20. Conversely, the New York Rangers have been among the coldest with just five wins over their last 16 games.

Over that span, the two clubs have traded places in the Metropolitan Division standings. The Caps also have opened up a six-point lead on the rest of the division for first place. Sunday night, they’ll meet for the second time this season in what appears to be a much larger game for the Rangers than it is for the Caps.

It also will be just the second home game in New York’s last eight games, which should be a welcome return after going winless on its last two multi-game road trips on this tailspin. The Blueshirts are 13-4-1 at home, while they’re just 6-7-3 on the road. This is one they have to find a way to win to bust out of this more recent malaise.

It certainly won’t be easy to do against a Capitals team that seems to be near unstoppable of late. Washington is on a four-game winning streak, which most recently included a 5-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning after trailing in that contest 3-0 through the first half of the game.

Alex Ovechkin had four points in that game for one of his best performances of the season. He left practice early Saturday with an apparent injury according to reports, but is expected to be ready to go against the Rangers. Even if not quite at 100 percent, like always, defending Ovechkin will be a priority for New York.

Any time a team as good as the Caps is on the other side of the ice, goaltending is a huge key. Henrik Lundqvist has given up eight goals over his last two starts, taking the loss in both. The first of those two games, however, required Lundqvist to come off the bench after an early-game injury to backup Antti Raanta.

Those rough games have been part of a disappointing December overall. Lundqvist is 2-3-1 so far in December with a .907 save percentage. Looking at the whole season, the Rangers goaltender still owns an impressive .928 save percentage, but he needs to get back on track just like the rest of the club. Doing so against the Caps could provide a huge boost to both the player and team.

Lundqvist had 32 saves in New York’s 5-2 win over Washington in early November and should expect another heavy work load Sunday.

There haven’t been too many instances to point to that the Caps are slowing down, unless you want to count the first half of that Friday night game against Tampa Bay before they turned the offense up. Braden Holtby has been dominant, with a .944 save percentage through seven starts this months. However, Holtby is just 3-7-1 all-time against the Rangers and gave up five goals the last time he played against New York.

The current trends for both teams and latest stats suggest the Capitals are favored in a pretty big way here, but we’ll give the Rangers the edge with a sharpened Lundqvist and being back on home ice. Pick: Rangers 3, Capitals 2

Henrik Lundqvist will need to be sharp against the red-hot Capitals. (USATSI)
Henrik Lundqvist will need to be sharp against the red-hot Capitals. (USATSI)

The rest of Sunday’s picks

Florida Panthers 4, Vancouver Canucks 2

Boston Bruins 3, New Jersey Devils 1

Tampa Bay Lightning 4, Ottawa Senators 3

Calgary Flames 3, Detroit Red Wings 2

Chicago Blackhawks 3, San Jose Sharks 1

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