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Rangers coach Alain Vigneault makes defensive changes in hopes of stopping Capitals' Alex Ovechkin

New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault looks

New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault looks on against the New Jersey Devils at Madison Square Garden in New York, NY on Monday, Sep 21, 2015. NHL Hockey between the New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers. Photo Credit: Steven Ryan

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- It's a matter of defense.

The key changes that Rangers coach Alain Vigneault is making for Tuesday's early season showdown with the Capitals, who lead the Metropolitan Division, are centered on defending against Alex Ovechkin & Co., who have won eight of 10 games and look deeper than last season.

Ovechkin, who scored 52 goals last season, has five goals and seven assists in nine games, and like Tampa's Steven Stamkos, his one-timer from the left circle is one of the deadliest weapons on a power play. No. 8 isn't even the leading scorer on the club: Fellow Russian Evgeny Kuznetsov, 23, has five goals and eight assists, and T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams have totaled six goals and 16 points.

"And their back end, they're so strong in their own zone now, they do a good job breaking out and getting the puck in their forwards' hands," Ryan McDonagh said. "We've got to find a way to get it done."

The Rangers (7-2-2) have allowed the fewest goals per game (1.82) in the league, but the Capitals are averaging 3.4 goals, the fourth-best in the NHL, and Vigneault is relying on matchups to strengthen the Blueshirts' position.

On the blue line, Vigneault is scratching Dan Boyle for the second time this season and installing rookie Dylan McIlrath on the third pair for some heft against some physically imposing lines. Dan Girardi and McDonagh, the shutdown duo that has had success in limiting Ovechkin's production, and Marc Staal and Kevin Klein were together at yesterday's practice.

"I've got a tremendous amount of respect for a guy that's had that career," Vigneault said, referring to Boyle. "He hasn't played bad, but he hasn't played as well as we think, and he thinks, he can play. He's been given the opportunities, and now it's time to see Dylan. Washington's a big team and he hasn't played in a while."

Up front, Viktor Stalberg, who had been sidelined the last two games with a head injury from a high hit by Philadelphia's Radko Gudas, returns to the lineup, replacing Emerson Etem. "Every game he's played he's improved," Vigneault said of Etem. "Unfortunately, we're playing a team who has one of the best power plays in the league [ranked 4th], so we're probably going to use eight penalty-killers [including Stalberg]. That takes him out of the rotation."

And in a move that seems overdue, rookie Oscar Lindberg, with five goals, was moved onto the second power-play unit. "It's a combination of he's played well five-on-five," said Vigneault, "and that some of the other guys who have been given the opportunity haven't done a lot with it. So there comes a point where you have to make decisions."

Blue notes

Henrik Lundqvist (5-2-2, 1.87 GAA, .943 save percentage) will make his 10th start. "They have some of the best players in the game," Lundqvist said. "[Nicklas] Backstrom and Ovechkin are always a threat." . . . J.T. Miller was dropped to the fourth line with Jarret Stoll and Dom Moore.


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