The Capitals (42-10-4, 88 points) and Devils (29-23-7, 65 points) face off tonight at Verizon Center (6:30 p.m., CSN). Here are our AAA Keys to the Game:
Where they stand: The Caps have won seven of their last eight and sit 23 points ahead of the Devils, who have lost two in a row and sit one point behind the Penguins.
Who’s in goal: The Caps will go with Braden Holtby (36-6-3, 2.15 GAA, .925 SP). The Devils will go with Cory Schneider (25-18-6, 2.02, .929).
Beagle update: Caps center Jay Beagle practiced with the Caps Saturday and received a stick tap ovation from his teammates and said he hopes to get back into the lineup in about a week, possibly Sunday afternoon in Chicago.
Beagle said he began skating four or five days after his Jan. 2 surgery but started stickhandling only a week ago. He discarded a hand brace on Friday but has not yet taken faceoffs against an opponent.
“I can’t close my hand 100 percent, so to wrap it around the stick is a little bit tough,” Beagle said. “I’m working on that but it feels pretty good and it’s come quick.”
As for where he might fit in when he returns to the lineup, Beagle said he just wants to see the Caps keep winning.
“Jojo, Willy and Chimmer play unbelievable together,” Beagle said of the third line of Marcus Johansson, Tom Wilson and Jason Chimera. “I just want to come in and make the team stronger. It doesn’t matter where Barry puts me.”
Oshie’s 500th: T.J. Oshie will play in his 500th NHL game. In his first 499 he has 126 goals and 218 assists for 344 points and a plus-86 rating. “It took me long enough,” Oshie, 29, said. “It seems like it’s taken a long time.”
Oshie said he’s accomplished “a fair amount” in his career, but added there is another level he can get to. He has three goals in his last 24 games after netting 13 goals in his first 32 games.
“You’re always trying to get better,” Oshie said. “You’re never really at the top of your game and hopefully the best is yet to come.”
Lineup change: The Caps will stick with a top line of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Justin Williams, which means Andre Burakovsky will remain on a “second” line with Nicklas Backstrom and Oshie.
“You need a little change sometimes,” Backstrom said. “It’s good because in the playoffs there will be a lot of matching and it’s good to try something new.”
“Me, O and Nicky just weren’t getting enough O-zone time and weren’t playing with the puck as much as we wanted to. Last game worked out well. Their line played well and I thought our line had more O-zone time.”
points) this season.
Historic pace: The Capitals’ 42 wins are the most victories through a team’s first 56 games of a season in NHL history. The Caps have posted a 15-1-1 record in their last 17 games at Verizon Center.
Speak of the Devils: The Capitals have won five consecutive games against the Devils and have outscored New Jersey 18-8 during that span. Alex Ovechkin has 41 points (18-23-41) in 39 career games against the Devils. Braden Holtby has posted an 8-3-1 record in his career against New Jersey with two shutouts, a 2.08 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage.
MORE CAPITALS: Report: Both Islanders and Barclays want out of lease deal
Here are projected lineups for both teams:
Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Justin Williams
Andre Burakovsky – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie
Jason Chimera – Marcus Johansson – Tom Wilson
Brooks Laich – Mike Richards – Michael Latta
Extra: Stan Galiev
Karl Alzner – Matt Niskanen
Nate Schmidt – John Carlson
Brooks Orpik – Dmitry Orlov
Extra: Taylor Chorney
Braden Holtby (starter) – Philipp Grubauer
Cory Schneider (starter) - Keith Kinkaid