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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Devils

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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Devils

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.”

Oshie agreed.

“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:

Forward lines

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

Defense pairs

Karl Alzner – Matt Niskanen

Nate Schmidt – John Carlson

Brooks Orpik – Dmitry Orlov

Extra: Taylor Chorney

Goaltenders

Braden Holtby (starter) – Philipp Grubauer

Devils

Forward lines

Joseph Blandisi - Adam Henrique - Lee Stempniak

Reid Boucher - Travis Zajac - Kyle Palmieri

Sergey Kalinin - Jacob Josefson - Tyler Kennedy

Bobby Farnham - Stephen Gionta - Jordin Tootoo

Defense pairs

Andy Greene - Adam Larsson

John Moore - David Schlemko

Seth Helgeson - Jon Merrill

Goaltenders

Cory Schneider (starter) - Keith Kinkaid

Injured: Michael Cammalleri (right hand), Stefan Matteau (facial fracture), Patrik Elias (right knee), Jiri Tlusty (right wrist)

Scratched: Tuomo RuutuEric GelinasDamon Severson

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Capitals Extra Podcast: Trade deadline story time with Alan May

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NBC Sports Washington

Capitals Extra Podcast: Trade deadline story time with Alan May

Alan May knows a thing or two about the trade deadline.

Over the course of his NHL career, May was traded five total times, four at the trade deadline. He sits down with Rob Carlin on a special edition of the Capitals Extra Podcast to tell stories from his playing days about what it was like getting traded.

This one's a can't miss for hockey fans. You can listen to the episode here on the Capitals Extra page or with the player below.

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NHL Awards tracker: Where would the Caps' offense be without Ovechkin?

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USA TODAY Sports

NHL Awards tracker: Where would the Caps' offense be without Ovechkin?

The Hart Trophy is given to the player judged to be the most valuable to their team. With the Caps currently struggling in almost every aspect of the game, consider this: Just where would they be without Alex Ovechkin?

Washington ranks 10th in the NHL in goals per game with 3.05. Ovechkin leads the NHL in goals with 36. He has scored an incredible 19-percent of his team's goals. No one on the Caps is within 20 goals of the Caps' captain.

That's not a typo. Evgeny Kuznetsov ranks second on the team with 16 goals. No other team in the league has a larger separation between its top two scorers. In fact, only three teams have a difference that's in the double digits: Vancouver (11), San Jose (10) and New Jersey (10).

Ovechkin is almost singlehandedly propping up Washington as a top-ten offense. If you think about just where this offense would be without him, there's a pretty strong case to be made that Ovechkin is as valuable to his team this season as any other player in the league.

SEE THIS WEEK'S 2018 NHL AWARDS TRACKER HERE

Here are the Caps' hopefuls for awards this season:

John Carlson

In contention for: Norris

Carlson is fifth among all defensemen with 45 points, but his case goes beyond the numbers. With a blue line that has featured two rookies the majority of the season, an aging veteran in Brooks Orpik and that had to deal with an injury to Matt Niskanen, the Caps have asked a lot of Carlson this season and he has always been up to the task.

Alex Ovechkin

In contention for: Hart

Few players, if any, are as important to their team's offensive production and therefore its success than Ovechkin has been this season.

Check out who the top candidates are for the league's major individual awards in this week's 2018 NHL Awards Tracker!