The Caps will be looking to win three games in a row for the first time this season when they host the league-worst Coyotes on Monday night.
Here’s how Coach Barry Trotz had the players lined up for the morning skate:
Vrana – Backstrom – Oshie
Ovechkin – Kuznetsov – Smith-Pelly
Stephenson – Eller – Wilson
O’Brien/Walker – Beagle – Chiasson
Djoos – Carlson
Orpik – Bowey
Orlov – Chorney
So, yeah, the forward combos and D-pairs look awfully similar to what we’ve seen in recent games.
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Lineup aside, here's what we were talking about at the morning skate:
- Braden Holtby is expected to start vs. Arizona, with backup Philipp Grubauer expected to get the nod Tuesday in Buffalo. Why? “We’re trying to establish some traction at home,” Trotz said, referring to the Caps’ 2-3-0 record on F Street. “And obviously Buffalo is sitting there waiting for us. So let’s make sure we take care of business at home. Most nights Grubi is going to get that back-to-back.”
- Holtby (7-3-0, 2.70 goals against, .921 save percentage) will oppose Scott Wedgewood (1-1-0, 3.41 goals against, .900 save percentage).
- It’s unclear who the fourth line left wing will be for the Caps as both Liam O’Brien and Nathan Walker came off the ice at the same time.
- Trotz said he warned his players about overlooking the speedy Coyotes, who are a league-worst 2-12-1 but have won two of their last four games. “I think Phoenix is a very dangerous team. In some ways it’s a little bit of a trap game because you look at the record and go, ‘That’s not a very good record.’ …They’ve won two of their last four games. They look confident.” Trotz added that he thinks Arizona is one of the faster teams in the NHL and is more talented that the record reflects at the moment.
- One area where Trotz wants to see his team improve is on special teams. The power play is 16th overall (18.6 percent) but just 31st at home (5.3 percent). The uber-skilled unit hasn’t scored a 5-on-4 goal since New Jersey, a span of 10 games. The penalty kill, meanwhile, is 27th with a success rate of 74.6-percent. “If you assess our special teams right now, the penalty kill has had big moments; it’s like a goaltender you make the big save when you need to,” Trotz said. “And they have for the most part [but] we probably have lost a point or two because we weren’t able to get a kill. And we’ve probably lost a point [because we didn't] get an extra goal from the power play.” Trotz added: “Our power play at home is 31st in the league. With that group of guys, it’s got to produce there. They will. We don’t have any worries about that, but it would make things easier.”
- Brett Connolly (upper body) hit the ice before the morning skate but there is no timetable for his return. He’s missed the past four games.
- Tyler Graovac (upper body) joined his teammates for the morning skate and is progressing, but Trotz said there’s no timetable for him, either.
- Matt Niskanen is eligible to come off LTIR Tuesday in Buffalo but that doesn’t seem to be plausible given that he hasn’t started skating with his teammates yet.
- No update on Andre Burakovsky (thumb surgery) but we know he’s out until sometime next month.