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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Avalanche


AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Avalanche

The Capitals (54-16-6, 114 points) will visit the Colorado Avalanche (39-34-4, 82 points) tonight at Pepsi Center and will do it without the help of center Nicklas Backstrom, who is sidelined day-to-day with an upper body injury. Here are our AAA Keys to the Game:

More on Backstrom: Backstrom skated with the Caps on Friday but will miss his first game since Oct. 15 when he sat out the first three games of the season following offseason hip surgery.

Backstrom was checked headfirst into the boards by Brayden Schenn late in the third period of the Caps’ 2-1 shootout loss to the Flyers on Wednesday night.

“He just got banged up a little bit last game so we're just going to keep him out for precautionary reasons,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz told reporters on Friday.

Holt-beast vs. Varly: Braden Holtby (46-9-5, 2.37, .921) can come within one win of Marty Brodeur’s single season wins record with a victory tonight. He’ll be facing former Capitals netminder Semyon Varlamov (27-21-3, 2.57, .918).

On a roll: In his four starts since being pulled in the Caps’ 6-2 loss in Pittsburgh on March 20 Holtby is 3-0-1 record with one shutout, a 0.98 GAA and a .963 save percentage. Holtby’s 46 wins ties him for the fourth most wins by a goaltender in NHL history. Holtby is 6-1-2 in his past nine games.

Back-to-backs: The Caps’ back-to-back weekend (they’ll face Arizona on Saturday) will be their 14th set of consecutive games this season. They are 20-5-1 in back-to-back games this season, outscoring opponents 82-57.

On the road again: The Caps are 25-9-4 on the road this season, ranking first in the NHL in road point percentage (.711) and second in road wins (25) and road points (54).

Chasing 50: Alex Ovechkin scored his 44th goal of the season Wednesday night in Philadelphia, passing Dale Hawerchuk (518) for 35th place on the NHL all-time goal scoring list. Ovechkin leads the NHL in goals and power-play goals (18). Since entering the NHL in 2005-06, Ovechkin has posted 161 more goals, 70 more power-play goals, 36 more multi-goal games, 28 more points and 19 more game-winning goals than any other player.

Record setters: The Caps’ 54 wins are tied for the most in franchise history (2009-10 team also had 54) and they are seven points shy of matching the franchise record for points in a season (2009-10: 121). The Capitals have earned a point in 47 of their last 58 games (42-11-5) and rank first in the NHL in goals-against per game (2.30), second in power-play percentage (22.9) and goals per game (3.07) and fourth in penalty kill percentage (84.6 percent).

Chasing the Jennings: The Caps are closing in on their second Jennings Trophy, awarded annually to the NHL team with the lowest goals-against average. The Capitals rank first in the NHL in goals against (177) this season. Washington previously won the award in 1983-84 (Al Jensen/Pat Riggin).

Duchene returns: The Avs will get top-line center Matt Duchene back in the lineup after he missed six games with a knee injury.

Here are projected lineups for both teams:


Forward lines

Alex Ovechkin - Marcus Johansson - T.J. Oshie

Andre Burakovsky - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Justin Williams

Jason Chimera - Jay Beagle - Tom Wilson

Daniel Winnik - Mike Richards - Stanislav Galiev

Defense pairings

Karl Alzner - Matt Niskanen

Nate Schmidt - John Carlson

Brooks Orpik - Dmitry Orlov


Braden Holtby (starter) - Philipp Grubauer

Injured: Nicklas Backstrom (upper body)

Scratched: Taylor ChorneyMichael LattaMike Weber


Forward lines

Mikkel Boedker - Matt Duchene - Mikhail Grigorenko

Gabriel Landeskog - Carl Soderberg - Blake Comeau

Shawn Matthias - John Mitchell - Jarome Iginla

Cody McLeod - Andrew Agozzino - Andreas Martinsen

Defense pairings

Chris Bigras - Erik Johnson

Nick Holden - Tyson Barrie

Nikita Zadorov - Francois Beauchemin


Semyon Varlamov (starter) - Calvin Pickard

Injured: Eric Gelinas (elbow), Nathan MacKinnon (knee), Brad Stuart (back surgery), Jesse Winchester(head)

Scratched: Andrew BodnarchukZach RedmondJack Skille

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Can Pittsburgh's past be a goalie rotation blueprint?


Can Pittsburgh's past be a goalie rotation blueprint?

It’s happened. The Caps no longer seem to have a No. 1 goalie anymore, they have a No. 1 and 1a.

That’s right, we have a goalie rotation in Washington.

“There's no sense riding one,” Barry Trotz said after practice on Monday. “[Braden Holtby] is coming back and looking better every game and [Philipp Grubauer] played pretty well for a long stretch so why not have both of them going?”

Grubauer got the start Sunday in Philadelphia and Holtby is slated to get the start Tuesday against the Dallas Stars. After that we will have to wait and see.


Trotz has no layout for which goalie he wants to start and when in the remaining ten games. He is not thinking about each goalie splitting five games or which one he wants to use more.

Nope. Trotz has just one thing on his mind. It is all about who starts the next game, that’s it.

“I think you just go with a guy that's hot at the time and your team feels comfortable with and go from there,” Trotz said.

So where does this leave the goaltending situation when it comes to the playoffs? A goalie rotation is all well and good in the regular season, but he has to have one starter for the postseason, right?

Not necessarily.


When Trotz was asked if he philosophically believed in having one starter for the playoffs, Trotz initially said he would not answer, but then said, “Why don't you ask Mike Sullivan what he thinks.”

Sullivan, of course, is the head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins who has led his team to a Stanley Cup in each of the past two seasons despite turning to both goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray in both seasons.

While Pittsburgh’s goalie rotation was largely based on injury, however, it still provides an example of how using both goalies can work in the playoffs and that seems to be the path the Caps are headed on at the moment.

Said Trotz, “You just have to go with your gut who you think is going to get the job done.”

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NHL Power Rankings: The home stretch

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NHL Power Rankings: The home stretch

We are down to the home stretch. Only 10 games remain in the Capitals' regular season. Those 10 games will ultimately decide if the Caps finish in first place in the Metropolitan Division and who they will play in the first round of the playoffs.

Washington currently sits in first place in the division, two points ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins and four points ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers. Of those 10 remaining games, only three come against teams currently in playoff position. The most critical of these comes on April 1 when the Caps travel to Pittsburgh in a game that could ultimately decide the division.

The Caps still hold a narrow lead in the standings, but where do they stand in the rankings? See this week's updated NHL Power Rankings here.