Craig Smith makes his Capitals debut against Rangers, Marcus Johansson is out due to illness

The Washington Capitals and New York Rangers will face each other in a Saturday matinee game and there will be a new face in the Caps lineup.

Craig Smith, part of the Boston Bruins return to the trade that sent Dmitry Orlov and Garnet Hathaway north, will make its Capitals debut as the team tries to avoid seven straight losses. Head coach Peter Laviolette said Friday that the plan is for Smith to be on the right wing.

The 33-year-old Smith has 10 points (4g, 6a) in 42 games with the Bruins this season. One of those assists came in a 3–1 Boston win over the Rangers in mid-January.

Smith has an extensive history with Laviolette from when both were with the Nashville Predators. He lined up for Lavy in parts of six seasons from 2014-15 to 2019-20.

“He’s a guy who can score goals,” Laviolette said pregame. “He’s got five seasons with 20 goals. He’s able to put the puck in the net. He’s a worker. He’s got speed, he’s competitive. Played power play. We’ll see how that goes. I think if he coming in late last night and just getting some system info, probably simplifying things for him today and seeing where that goes from there.

“We’ve changed things up a bit since the last time we worked together,” he added when asked about the two’s shared past. “Even if you haven’t played a system, you’ve probably played against it. So you have a good understanding of what it is and then you refine the details. I think the most important thing is to just get out there and put some energy and pace into the game and see if he can create.

The team also announced a few hours before the puck dropped that Marcus Johansson will not be in the lineup due to a non-COVID illness. It will be Johansson’s first missed game of the season. That leaves only Conor Sheary, Nick Jensen and Trevor van Riemsdyk as the only players to play in every game this season, should they not be a late scratch.

Johansson had skated on a third line with Nicklas Backstrom and Conor Sheary. Smith could fill in there as Sheary pivots to his more natural left wing.

The Caps also go back to Darcy Kuemper in net after Charlie Lindgren lost 4-2 to the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday. Kuemper’s final appearance saw him stop 22 of 25 shots on Tuesday against the Detroit Red Wings in a 3-1 loss.

In five starts in February, Kuemper is 1-4 with a 3.07 goals against average and a .901 save percentage. Going five to five as a team in February, the Caps are only 28th in the league in save percentage (.895).

The Rangers arrive in DC with 75 points in the standings and sit comfortably in third place in the Metropolitan Division. They will try to break their own losing streak as they dropped their last three.

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