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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Panthers

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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Panthers

The Capitals (35-8-4, 74 points) and Florida Panthers (29-15-5, 63 points) return from their NHL All-Star breaks tonight at Verizon Center (7:30 p.m., NBCSN). Here are our AAA Keys to the Game:

Backup vs. backup: For the third time this season Caps goalie Philipp Grubauer (5-3-1, 2.12 GAA, .925 SP) will face Al Montoya (7-2-1, 1.92, .929). The two teams split their first two meetings, with the Caps prevailing 2-1 on an overtime goal by Evgeny Kuznetsov on Oct. 31 and the Panthers winning 4-1 on Dec. 10. Both games were in Florida. Since this is the final meeting, the teams’ No. 1 goalies, Braden Holtby and Roberto Luongo, won’t face each other (outside of an All-Star Game) until the playoffs.

Power play shuffle: With Alex Ovechkin (suspension for missing All-Star Game) and Marcus Johansson (upper body injury) out of the lineup, look for the Caps’ top power play unit to have T.J. Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Justin Williams and Matt Niskanen. The second unit will be Jason Chimera, Stan Galiev, Andre Burakovsky, Tom Wilson and John Carlson).

Lots of games: Including tonight, the Caps will play 35 games in 71 days to close out the regular season. With that kind of workload, Caps coach Barry Trotz said he expects Grubauer to see 25 percent of those starts, which equates to eight or nine. That means Braden Holtby is slated to play in roughly 27 of the final 35 games. 

Future Hall of Famer? Trotz is usually reserved when it comes to making grand comparisons, but when he was asked about whom he might liken 19-year-old Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad to he brought up three Hall of Famers.

“I look at Ekblad and where he is at his age and, maybe they’re different in style, but you start throwing out names like (Chris) Pronger, (Al) MacInnis and (Nicklas) Lidstrom type of guys. If everything goes well and he keeps improving and growing as a player, I see definitely a Hall of Fame type of defenseman. It's hard to believe he's only that age. As a defenseman, you don't get into the Hall unless you're (exceptional) all around.”

How old is he? When Grubauer, 24, was asked what it’s like facing 43-year-old Panthers right wing Jaromir Jagr, he quipped. “That guy is amazing. I wasn’t even born when he started playing (in the NHL).” 

Here are tonight’s projected lineups: 

CAPITALS
Forward lines

Stan Galiev - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Andre Burakovsky - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Justin Williams
Jason Chimera - Mike Richards - Tom Wilson
Brooks Laich - Zach Sill - Michael Latta
Defense pairings
Matt Niskanen - Karl Alzner
Nate Schmidt - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov- Taylor Chorney
Goaltenders
Philipp Grubauer (starter) - Braden Holtby
Injured: Brooks Orpik (lower body), Jay Beagle (upper body), Marcus Johansson (upper body)
Scratched: none
Suspended: Alex Ovechkin 

PANTHERS
Forward lines

Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Jaromir Jagr
Jussi Jokinen - Vincent Trocheck - Reilly Smith
Quinton Howden - Nick Bjugstad - Logan Shaw
Corban Knight - Derek MacKenzie - Shawn Thornton
Defense pairings

Brian Campbell - Erik Gudbranson
Dmitry Kulikov - Aaron Ekblad
Steven Kampfer - Alex Petrovic
Goaltenders
Al Montoya (starter) - Roberto Luongo
Injured: Willie Mitchell (lower body), Dave Bolland (lower body)
Scratched: Brandon Pirri

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Get to know newest Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny

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USA Today Sports Images

Get to know newest Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny

On Monday, with the NHL trade deadline approaching, the Washington Capitals addressed a need for blue line depth by acquiring Michal Kempny from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a conditional third-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.

But before you begin to analyze how the move impacts the Capitals' outlook heading forward, lets take some time to get to know the newest member of the Caps.

Who is Michal Kempny?

Michal Kempny is a 27-year-old defenseman from the Czech Republic. He was born on Sept. 8, 1990 in Hodonin, a small town in southwestern Czech Republic near the border of Austria and Slovakia. Kempny began his hockey career playing for SHK Hodonin. Kempny knew very little english upon arriving to the NHL, but credited his girlfriend Showtime shows to helping him become more comfortable speaking the language. 

RELATED: UPDATED NHL POWER RANKINGS

What International Experience Does Michal Kempny Have?

Michal Kempny played professionally for HC Kometa Brno of the Czech Extraliga and Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League. Kempny was a standout player on the international stage, playing for the Czech Republic U18, U20 and Men's National teams.

MORE ON THE TRADE: WHERE DOES KEMPNY FIT IN THE CAPS ROSTER

When Did Michal Kempny Make His NHL Debut?

Michal Kempny was signed to a one-year contract as an undrafted free agent by the Chicago Blackhawks in May, 2016 and made his NHL debut in October, 2016. Kempny scored his first NHL goal on Dec. 30, 2016 against Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward. Kempny appeared in 50 games for the Blackhawks during the 2016-17 season, recording two goals and six assists. The Blackhawks re-signed Kempny to a one-year extension during the offseason. Kempny played in 31 games this season before being traded to the Capitals.

What Type of Hockey Player is Michal Kempny?

Kempny is a 6-0, 194-pound defenseman with a strong left-handed shot. Known for his play on the offensive end, Kempny was never able to gain the trust of Joel Quenneville on the defensive end. But Kempny has a good bit of offensive upside, thanks to his passing skills and strong shot, which is why the Blackhawks took a flier on him in the first place and why he was an ideal trade candidate for the Capitals. But again, Kempny's size is less than ideal for a top-tier blue-liner and while he doesn't shy away from contact, he is rarely much of a physical presence. 

What Does Michal Kempny's Contract Look Like?

Michael Kempny is set to become an unrestricted free agent the the end of the 2017-18 season and has a cap hit of just $900,000.

RELATED: TROTZ REACTS TO RACIAL COMMENTS MADE BY CHICAGO FANS

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Where Michael Kempny fits in the Caps' lineup

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Where Michael Kempny fits in the Caps' lineup

If there was one thing the Caps needed to address at the trade deadline, it was defense.

Washington ranks only 20th in the NHL in defense with 2.98 goals against per game. Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos have played well in their rookie seasons, but their play has also been marked with rookie mistakes. To have both in the lineup in the playoffs would present an obvious weakness and matchup opportunities for opposing coaches to exploit.

On Monday, the Caps attempted to address their need for defensive depth by trading for defenseman Michal Kempny, a 27-year-old blue liner with good skating ability and offensive upside.

RELATED: CHECK OUT THE LATEST NHL POWER RANKINGS

So what does this mean for the lineup?

Given the immediate need the Caps have on defense, it would not make sense to make a trade for a No. 7 defenseman who won't play. Having Kempny sitting in the press box does not address any of the team's issues on the blue line. Unless Brian MacLellan is planning on making another move, Kempny was brought in to play.

As a left-shot defenseman, he will most likely play on the left. Barry Trotz may ultimately need someone to play someone on their off-side, but asking a player who has played in only 31 games this season to step into a new team and play on the right is a lot to ask.

Let's get this out of the way: Kempny was not brought in to replace Brooks Orpik. His addition will not push Orpik to No. 7 in the lineup. Moving Orpik into the top four, however, certainly does not make this team better. If Orpik is staying put on the third pair, it seems most likely that Kempny will ultimately play to the left of John Carlson.

Here's a possible lineup:

Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen
Michal Kempny-John Carlson
Christian Djoos-Brooks Orpik

Extras: Taylor Chorney, Madison Bowey

If this is the route the Caps choose to go, this would most likely mean moving Bowey to Hershey for the rest of the regular season as he is still waiver exempt. Placing Chorney on waivers to move him to Hershey, however, would not be out of the question.

MORE CAPITALS: BLACKHAWKS FANS TOSSED AFTER DIRECTING RACIAL REMARKS AT SMITH-PELLY

The Orpik-Bowey pairing has looked slow in recent weeks and moving Djoos to that pair provides a lot more mobility. Trotz will ultimately need to shelter the third pair, but it is easier to shelter one defensive pair than shelter two rookies playing on two different pairs which was the situation facing Washington before the trade for Kempny.

Kempny may start on the third pair and have to work his way up, but, barrig any further moves or glaring chemistry issues, the most likely scenario is that we will ultimately see Kempny in the top-four.

A third-round draft pick may seem like a steep price for a defenseman who played only 31 games this season, but he played well whenever he was in the lineup. If he is able to step into Washington's top-four, that third-round pick ultimately will not look like such a high price tag.