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Rangers-Capitals preview

Wednesday - 12/28/2011, 11:15am  ET

Ben Raby, wtop.com
Twitter: @BenRaby31

WASHINGTON -- When the Capitals and Rangers meet tonight for the second time this season (7:35 p.m. faceoff on WFED 1500AM & wfed.com), both teams will again be playing without their top defensemen.

The Rangers beat the Caps 6-3 in a Nov. 25 matinee at Verizon Center with New York playing without Marc Staal and Washington skating minus Mike Green.

Both all-star defensemen are nearing returns to their respective lineups, although it is doubtful that either will play before the new year.

Green took part in his first full practice yesterday since suffering a groin injury Nov. 11 in New Jersey, but there is still no timetable for his return.

Green has missed Washington's last 20 games and 26-of-27 overall dating back to late October. The Caps are 8-0-0 this season with Green in the lineup; 9-15-2 without him.

"I couldn't wait to get back out there and skate with the guys," Green said following yesterday's skate.

"It's been tough watching hockey and not being a part of it. So for me to get back out there and be a part of this and smile a little bit - I think I had a smile on my face the whole time I was out there. But it feels good. You don't realize how much you miss it until you're gone for a while."

The most encouraging sign of Green's participation in practice was his presence during the team's power play drills. The Caps PP ranks 19th in the NHL this season, clicking at 17.1 percent.

"It's been quite a while for him," Caps head coach Dale Hunter noted. "As a player you want to be out skating and in the drills, also -- not just skating by yourself. It's a good sign that a little power-play work and skating at the end hard."

Staal has yet to play at all this season as he continues to recover from post concussion symptoms but the Rangers blue liner was cleared for contact this week and is also be nearing a return.

While the Capitals have struggled mightily without Green, the Rangers enter play tonight in first place in the Eastern Conference with a 22-8-4 record despite going the entire season without Staal.

Without Staal in the lineup this season, defensemen Dan Girardi and Michael Del Zotto are among a group of New York blue liners who have picked up the slack. Both Girardi and Del Zotto came through Hunter's London Knights junior program in the Ontario Hockey League.

Catch the Capitals and Rangers at 7:35 p.m. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame at 7:00 p.m. on Federal News Radio, WFED 1500AM and online at wfed.com.

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