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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Lightning

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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Lightning

The Capitals (22-6-2, 46 points) will take on the Tampa Bay Lightning (16-13-3, 35 points) tonight at Verizon Center (6:30 p.m. pregame, CSN). Here are our AAA Keys to the Game:

Free Willy: Caps right wing Tom Wilson will be in the lineup tonight after his match penalty for blindsiding Ottawa Senators forward Curtis Lazar was rescinded by the NHL earlier on Friday.

“The league always does what’s right,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “They looked at it and said that was a little bit of a mis-call. We talked to Tom. The one thing about Tom is he’s going to be a physical player, that’s his DNA. That’s what makes him very effective.

“Twenty-nine other teams would love to have Tom Wilson. They’ll complain about Tom Wilson but they’d love to have him. I know he can get frustrated because sometimes he feels like he’s being targeted, but he can’t change his game.

“He has to understand that player safety comes first and sometimes they overreact on player safety. You have to keep your head about yourself and recognize the situation and he does. He’s a bright young man and I don’t think it’s going to affect him at all. I think he was more worried I’d lose trust in him late in games and I said, ‘No, I have total trust in your game. Don’t change it. Just make sure that you’re within the rules and understand that player safety is paramount.’”

Down goes Brown: Right wing was place on waivers by the Capitals on Friday. If he clears he will be assigned to the AHL Hershey Bears.

“He needs to play,” Trotz said. “He’s played in one game and it’s Christmastime already. He got hurt in training camp. There was no guarantee he was going to be with our hockey club to start. From our standpoint he just needs to get playing.”

Trotz said the Caps will keep Stan Galiev as their only extra forward, and Connor Carrick as their extra defenseman.

No morning skate: With back-to-back games in New York and Carolina Sunday and Monday nights, Trotz canceled the team’s morning skate on Friday and will practice Saturday at Kettler.

“We’re in a seven in 11 nights (actually, 7 in 12 nights) and we’re not going to skate in New York,” Trotz said, “so I want to see it as a litmus test to see how we react. We’ve had enough morning skates already. We’ve just gotta play the games and get to Christmas.”

The Caps will have four days off following Monday night’s game in Raleigh.

MORE CAPITALS: CHIMERA SEES SILVER IN HIS FUTURE

Orpik update: Trotz said not much has changed with defenseman Brooks Orpik and his lower body injury. Orpik has missed 16 of the Caps’ first 30 games and has not played since Nov. 10.

“He’s working out every day,” Trotz said. “He’s not skating. It’s just rest and therapy. I don’t have a time frame. Only Brooks will be able to give us a time frame when he starts to feel he can push it more and we’ll go from there.”

Praise for Kucherov: Tampa right wing Nikita Kucherov has made a fan out of Trotz. Through 32 games the 22-year-old Russian leads the Bolts in goals (12) and is second behind Steven Stamkos in points (20).

“Every time we play the Lightning I come away from that game going, ‘That guy’s a top-end player.’ He’s a dynamic player. He’s definitely a top six forward for sure and he’s dangerous. When he’s on the ice something happens and you have an appreciation for those type of guys.

“He’s got some bite to him. He doesn’t back off if you come at him physically. I’ve got a lot of admiration for him. I think he’s a hell of a player. He’s got tremendous instincts and skill and he can really rip the puck, too. He shoots darts.”

Here are the projected lineups for both teams:

CAPITALS

Forward lines

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie

Marcus Johansson - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Justin Williams

Jason Chimera - Jay Beagle - Tom Wilson

Brooks LaichMichael Latta - Andre Burakovsky

Defense pairs

Nate Schmidt - John Carlson

Matt Niskanen - Karl Alzner

Dmitry Orlov - Taylor Chorney

Goaltenders

Braden Holtby (starter) - Philipp Grubauer

Injured: Brooks Orpik (lower body)

Scratches: Stanislav GalievConnor Carrick

LIGHTNING

Forward lines

Vladislav Namestnikov - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov

J.T. Brown - Valtteri Filppula - Ryan Callahan

Alex Killorn - Brian Boyle - Jonathan Marchessault

Yanni Gourde - Erik Condra - Mike Blunden

Defense pairs

Victor Hedman - Anton Stralman

Jason Garrison - Matt Carle

Braydon Coburn - Andrej Sustr

Goaltenders

Ben Bishop (starter) - Kristers Gudlevskis

Injured: Joel Vermin (hand), Cedric Paquette (upper body), Tyler Johnson (undisclosed), Jonathan Drouin (lower body),Ondrej Palat (undisclosed)

Scratches: Mike AngelidisNikita Nesterov

 

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The human side of the NHL's trade deadline

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USA TODAY Sports

The human side of the NHL's trade deadline

Congratulations! You just got a new job. There’s just one catch: it’s in a new city.

Oh, and by the way, you start tomorrow. Good luck.

That would be a pretty big shock for anyone, but it is the reality that hockey players constantly face and one that is exacerbated as the trade deadline approaches.

“I know fans and media get really excited about it, but they're not the ones that have to pick up and move their families,” Brooks Orpik said following Sunday’s practice. “I think players are looked at as kind of objects at times, just a number. People don't know there's a human side to trades.”

This season’s NHL trade deadline is 3 p.m. on Monday. Until then, every locker room faces a degree of uncertainty.

RELATED: KEMPNY GETS QUICK PROMOTION TO THE TOP-FOUR

Almost no player or prospect is untouchable. Even if there are no rumors surrounding a team or things seem set, the threat of a trade hangs over the heads of the players like the sword of Damocles until the deadline finally comes and goes.

Even for those players who know they won’t be moved or who can’t be moved because of various clauses in their contracts, it still remains a stressful time as they could still see friends shipped to another city.

“I think what happens on that day is all the players, as soon as they get off the ice at morning skate, they're all looking at their phones and trying to see what happens,” Barry Trotz said. “They want to see what happens around the league.”

Sure, a player can go from a last place team to a contender. On the surface, they should be happy. Behind the scenes, however, midseason trades always carry family implications.

“It's tough on guys,” Orpik said. “Guys have kids in schools or have roots in the community of the teams they play for. As fun as it is for some people, I think as players it can definitely be nerve-wracking for people.”

MORE CAPITALS: TRADE TO CAPS POTENTIALLY OFFERS JERABEK WHAT HE NEVER GOT IN MONTREAL

When those trades do happen, they obviously can throw a player’s life upside-down.

For those players who are not traded, the team has to adjust both to losing familiar faces and to embracing new ones into the locker room.

“When someone comes into a new group, it's not much changed except for obviously a new piece,” Jay Beagle said. “But it's definitely harder on them so you try to make it as easy as possible on them.”

Thus far, the Capitals have added defensemen Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek over the past week. While both trades were done in exchange for draft picks, Taylor Chorney was a casualty of the trades as he was placed on waivers to make room for the new additions and was claimed by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“It's tough losing guys, especially guys that are well-liked in our room,” Orpik said. “Taylor Chorney is a really well-liked guy so I think that impacted us a little bit.”

On Monday, fans, analysts, players and coaches alike will all be frantically checking their phones looking for the latest trade news, but while the deadline brings excitement for fans, it bears very different feelings for the players involved. Those players are people working a job and those trades mean uprooting their life in a matter of days. Regardless of whether a player is better off in terms of the team situation, there is still a human cost to doing business.

“It can affect certain guys because their names are obviously spread all over the place,” Trotz said. “They're human too. They pretend to not hear it, but they do.”

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Michal Kempny already promoted to top-four at Sunday's practice

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USA TODAY Sports

Michal Kempny already promoted to top-four at Sunday's practice

After two games, it looks like Michal Kempny is already moving up in the lineup.

At Sunday’s practice, Kempny played on the team's second defensive pairing, lining up on the left of John Carlson. Previously, the Czech defenseman had been playing on the right of Brooks Orpik. The move to the left allows him to play on his natural side as he is a left-handed shot.

Here are the pairs from Sunday’s practice:

Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen
Michal Kempny – John Carlson
Brooks Orpik – Christian Djoos
Jakub Jerabek – Madison Bowey

Acquired on Monday from the Chicago Blackhawks, Kempny has played in two games for the Capitals and has received glowing reviews thus far.

“He's a really good pro, that's what sticks out,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “He takes care of himself, he works at his game off the ice and with the guys, he has fit in very well.”

RELATED: THE TRADE TO WASHINGTON OFFERS JERABEK THE CHANCE HE NEVER SEEMED TO GET IN MONTREAL

“I've gotten to play a little bit with [Kempny] the last couple games,” Brooks Orpik said. “I think he's a guy that, he moves pretty well and he moves the puck pretty well and likes to keep things pretty simple. He's very consistent and predictable so he's very easy to play with.”

When the Capitals first acquired Kempny, it seemed like the best fit for him would be alongside Carlson. It’s a natural fit with Kempny being a left-shot and Carlson a righty. It also bumps down Christian Djoos to a third-pair role which is preferable to having a rookie in the top-four come the playoffs.

Should Kempny play well with Carlson, that would likely solidify Washington’s top two pairs. The Orlov-Niskanen pair was not going to be changed and Carlson was going to be on the second pair. The only question was who would ultimately play with him in the postseason?

The third pair, however, remains a work in progress.

The Caps will have to wait at least another day for the debut of their second recent acquisition as Jakub Jerabek cannot yet play due to visa issues and will miss Monday's game, reports Isabelle Khurshudyan.

Considering the issues Washington has had on defense, they would not have brought in another defenseman just to be a healthy scratch. He will get his shot to earn a spot in the lineup.

With two new defensemen in tow, obviously the team will need to experiment over the next few days and weeks to find the right combinations.

“We're going to have to probably spend at least the next 10 to 12 games doing that and then we'll have to sort of settle in,” Trotz said. “With eight defenseman, you sort of want to see which guys you’re going to play and who to play as partners and sort of a little bit of ranking. If someone goes down, who's filling that extra role?”

MORE CAPITALS: WHY THERE'S NO REASON FOR CAPS FANS TO WORRY