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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Sabres


AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Sabres

Fresh off Saturday night’s 3-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens, the Capitals (26-6-2, 54 points) are back in action tonight in Buffalo, where they’ll face the Sabres (15-16-4, 34 points) at Niagara Center (7 p.m., CSN+). Here are our AAA Keys to the Game:

They don’t know Jack, yet: This will be the Caps’ first look at rookie phenom Jack Eichel, who is second on the Sabres in goals (11) and third in points (20) after 35 games. Eichel has six points in his last three games.

“The game is always evolving and there’s new stars,” Caps coach Barry Trotz said. “Who’s going to replace the (Sidney) Crosbys and (Alex) Ovechkins? It’s going to be the (Connor) McDavids and Eichels.

“The thing about seeing McDavid is his speed. He does everything at lightning speed and it looked pretty easy. Eichel’s got fantastic hands, he’s got those exceptional puck skills and vision and he makes it look easy.

“He slows it down when needs to slow it down and he speeds it up when he needs to. And he’s got a little bit of an edge. He’s going to be a dynamic player -- he already is right now -- and we’ll see how it develops further down the road.”

Getting to know you: This is the first of back-to-back games between the Caps and Sabres, who will face off again on Wednesday night at Verizon Center.

While the Caps have won seven in a row, the Sabres are 2-0-1 in their last three games, including a 6-3 win over the Bruins on Saturday.

“The good thing about playing Buffalo back to back is … everything we do well or don’t do well we can pull out of the fire and use the next day,” Trotz said. “We’re going to have a feel for them at the end of the night and have a real good feel for how they play. I think they’re much improved from the start of the year.”

Trotz noted the Sabres are so deep offensively that they have a former 36-goal scorer, Matt Moulson, and a former 27-goal scorer, David Legwand, on the fourth line.

No Carly?: The Caps will learn before the game whether No. 1 defenseman John Carlson will be in th lineup. Carlson came off the ice early on Monday with a lower body injury and Trotz said he would leave Carlson’s availability up to his defenseman. He has a games-played streak of 412 games dating back to 2010-11.  

If Carlson cannot play, Connor Carrick will make his first NHL appearance since the 2013-14 season.


Between the pipes: The Caps will turn to Braden Holtby (22-4-1, 1.92, .932) who is 5-2-1 lifetime against the Sabres with a .2.90 GAA and .890 SP. The Sabres will turn to backup Linus Ullmark (5-7-2, 2.64, .911), who will be making his first start against the Caps.

Special teams: The Caps rank second in the NHL on the power play (25.2 percent) and fifth in penalty killing (84.7 percent). Buffalo ranks ninth on the power play (20.4 percent) and 23rd in penalty killing (78.2 percent).

Rattling the Sabres: Since the start of the 2008-09 season, the Capitals are 15-6-4 against the Sabres , including 6-1-2 in their last nine meetings.

Kane will play: Sabres second-line left wing Evander Kane is expected to be in the lineup following reports he is involved in a sex-offense investigation relating to an alleged incident at a Buffalo hotel Sunday morning.

“Obviously you guys are all aware of the situation that occurred, or that's going on right now," Kane said. There's not a whole lot I can say. I just want to say I've done nothing wrong; I look forward to clearing my name. I respect the legal process and, unfortunately at this time, there's not much more I can talk about."

Three Caps at WJCs: Capitals prospects Ilya Samsonov (Russia), Jonas Siegenthaler (Switzerland) and Vitek Vanecek (Czech Rebublic) are representing their countries at the 2016 World Junior Championships in Helsinki, Finland.

Vanecek, who was selected by the Capitals in the second round, 39th overall, in 2014, stopped 20 of 22 shots in the Czech Republic’s 2-1 shootout loss to Russia on Dec. 26.

Siegenthaler, taken in the second round, 57th overall, in 2015, recorded two penalty minutes in Switzerland’s 8-3 loss to Sweden on Dec. 26.

And Samsonov, drafted by the Capitals in the first round, 22nd overall, in 2015, served as the backup in Russia’s 2-1 shootout victory against the Czech Republic.

Here are the projected lineups for tonight:


Forward lines

Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie

Marcus Johansson – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Justin Williams

Jason Chimera – Jay Beagle – Tom Wilson

Brooks Laich – Michael Latta – Andre Burakovsky

Defense pairs

Nate Schmidt – John Carlson/Connor Carrick

Karl Alzner – Matt Niskanen

Dmitry Orlov – Taylor Chorney


Braden Holtby (starter) - Philipp Grubauer

Injured: Brooks Orpik (lower body), John Carlson (lower body)

Scratched: Stanislav Galiev


Forward lines

Jamie McGinn – Ryan O'Reilly – Sam Reinhart

Evander Kane – Jack Eichel – Tyler Ennis

Zemgus Girgensons – Johan Larsson – Brian Gionta

Matt Moulson – David Legwand – Nicolas Deslauriers

Defense pairs

Josh Gorges – Rasmus Ristolainen

Jake McCabe – Zach Bogosian

Mike Weber – Cody Franson


Linus Ullmark (starter) - Chad Johnson

Injured: Mark Pysyk (lower body), Robin Lehner (ankle), Cody McCormick (blood clot)

Scratched: Marcus FolignoCarlo Colaiacovo



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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: How does Brooks Orpik really impact the Caps?

NBC Sports Washington

Capitals Faceoff Podcast: How does Brooks Orpik really impact the Caps?

No player on the Caps gets more scrutiny than defenseman Brooks Orpik. While the analytics aren't kind when he's on the ice, we got to see what the Caps looked like without him when he was scratched against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday and...well, his loss was noticeable.

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir discuss what Orpik's true impact on the Capitals really is both on and off the ice on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast. Plus, they also talk about John Carlson's monster season and Barry Trotz's new strategy for the goalies.

Listen to the latest episode in the player below or here on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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Caps prospect watch: Signing season?


Caps prospect watch: Signing season?

The 2018 NCAA Hockey Tournament bracket has been announced and only one Capitals prospect, Brian Pinho, is still in the running.

Providence College was selected as the No. 2 seed in the East Regional and will play No. 3 Clarkson in the first round on Friday, March 23 on ESPNU. The winner will play the winner of Notre Dame-Michigan Tech on Saturday with a chance to advance to the Frozen Four.

The college season is over for the rest of the Capitals' college prospects which begs the question, will any of them sign an entry-level deal with Washington?

In the spring when seasons end for colleges, junior leagues and European leagues, we see a flurry of signings across the NHL as teams sign their prospects and young free agents.

Among the Caps' college prospects, the most likely candidate to sign would be Shane Gersich. Gersich just wrapped up this third season at the University of North Dakota, finishing second on the team in goals (13) and tied for third in points (29). The Capitals will certainly make a push to sign him considering his talent and because if he returns to college for a fourth year, he stands to become a free agent on Aug. 15, 2019.

Brad Elliott Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald reported Wednesday that North Dakota was still awaiting Gersich's decision on whether he planned to return to college.

Quinnipiac defenseman Chase Priskie is in a similar situation, but it he has decided to head back to school for another season.

“That wasn’t a season I’d want to leave on,” Priskie told the New Haven Register. “When I came here as a freshman I saw our senior class, Garteig, St. Denis, Soren Jonzzon, and they left such a legacy that guys still talk about them. Same for Sam Anas and Devon Toews. They were all such great players and some of the best people for our program. When I leave, I want to be talked about like they are.”


Other prospect notes:

  • For Pinho, now a senior at Providence, this marks an opportunity for him to finish his college career the same way he began, with a national championship. “I don’t think I realized at the time how hard it is just to get back to the tournament,” Pinho told the New Haven Register. “So that’s something we older guys have been telling the younger guys. You never know when you’re going to be back and you have to make the most of it when you’re there.” (You can read the full feature on Pinho here)
  • The end of the season may suddenly be near for goalie prospect Ilya Samsonov. Metallurg Magnitogorsk finds itself down 3-1 in its series with Ak Bars in the KHL playoffs meaning their season could be over as early as Friday. Of course, the big news to watch after that is whether or not Samsonov would come to North America. If he does, he would most likely go to Hershey to play for the Bears. With only 10 games remaining on Hershey's schedule, however, the sooner Samsonov's team is ousted from the playoffs, the better. At least from a Washington perspective.
  • All three of Washington's WHL prospects have reached the WHL playoffs. Moose Jaw (Dmitriy Zaitsev) finished with the best record in the league and will play Prince Albert in the first round. Swift Current (Beck Malenstyn) finished second in the East Division behind Moose Jaw and will play Regina. Everett (Garrett Pilon) won the U.S. Division and earned the top seed in the Western Conference. They will play Seattle in the first round.
  • Dmitriy Zaitsev remains out after taking an illegal hit last week. He did not play in either of Moose Jaw's final regular season games, but was a full participant in practice on Wednesday.
  • Adam Carlson has found his groove in Kansas City. Playing for the Mavericks of the ECHL, he won each of his two starts this past week allowing only one goal on 43 shots. He was named the 2nd star of the game for both games.
  • Madison Bowey recorded an assist on Friday and two more for Hershey on Saturday for three over the weekend in his first week back with the Bears. Bowey has spent the majority of the season with the Caps, but the additions of Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek at the trade deadline meant there were just too many bodies up in Washington and not enough playing time to go around. As Bowey is waiver exempt, he became the odd-man out and was sent to the AHL. It would not be surprising to see him recalled by Washington when the NHL playoffs begin.
  • Defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler brought his goal total up to five for the season with two goals against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Monday. The Bears really wanted to emphasize his offensive game this season to see if Siegenthaler could be developed into a two-way player. His strength is definitely is on the defensive end of the ice, but he will be a more versatile player if he can also be a threat offensively as well. You can see the highlights of Siegenthaler's two-goal game here:

  • Forward Hampus Gustafsson was recalled to Hershey last week and did not wait long to make an impact. He scored his first career AHL goal on Friday. He also added an assist making that game his first career multi-point game as well.
  • Tyler Lewington was suspended two games by the AHL for a punch he delivered to Bridgeport's Scott Eansor in Friday's game.

Who are the Caps' top 10 prospects? Find out here in this week's updated rankings