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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Sabres


AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Sabres

The Capitals (27-6-2, 56 points) put their eight-game win streak on the line tonight against the Buffalo Sabres (15-17-4) at Verizon Center (6:30 p.m. pregame, CSN). Here are our AAA Keys to the Game:    

Fight night? Follow along on Twitter (@ChuckGormleyCSN) for the starting lineups tonight. The visiting coach (Dan Bylsma) fills out his first. If he chooses to start the game with forward Nicolas Deslauriers, Caps coach has the option of starting his fourth line of Zach Sill between Brooks Laich and Andre Burakovsky, or his third line of Jay Beagle between Jason Chimera and Tom Wilson. Either way it’s a pretty safe bet Wilson or Sill will want a piece of Deslauriers.

Tale of the tape: For those who care about such things, Sill has had 44 fights as a pro – 33 in the AHL, where he once fought Beagle, and 11 in the NHL, including a bout with Wilson. Deslauriers has 30 pro fights – 18 in the AHL and 12 in the NHL. Sill (6-foot, 202 pounds) and Deslauriers (6-1, 212) have never fought each other.

History in the making?: The Capitals’ 2-0 win in Buffalo Monday was their third straight in western New York, their longest road win streak against the Sabres. Buffalo is looking to avoid being swept for the first time in the franchise's eight home-and-home series against the Capitals.

Beast mode: Caps goalie Braden Holtby (23-4-1, 1.86 GAA, .935 SP) is on pace for 54 wins, which would shatter Marty Brodeur’s NHL record of 48 wins in 2006-07.

Sabres netminders: Chad Johnson will get the start for the Sabres. He and Linus Ullmark have been sharing the Sabres’ net while Robin Lehner is recovering from a high ankle sprain suffered in the season opener. Johnson is 10-9-2 with a .918 SP, while Ullmark is 5-7-2 with a .911 SP.

Who’s hot: Alex Ovechkin is seven goals away from 500. He has 39 points in 37 games against the Sabres in his career. Nicklas Backstrom has 26 points in 29 games against the Sabres. Tyler Ennis has 12 points in his past 11 games against the Capitals.

Mo-January?: On Tuesday the Sabres conducted their monthly “mustache boy” contest in which the player who is the last to score in a shootout contest must agree to grow a mustache for a month or shave the one he has. Defenseman Zach Bogosian was the loser.

Here are projected lineups for both teams:


Forward lines

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie

Marcus Johansson - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Justin Williams

Jason Chimera - Jay Beagle - Tom Wilson

Brooks Laich - Zach Sill - Andre Burakovsky

Defense pairs

Karl Alzner - Matt Niskanen

Dmitry Orlov - Nate Schmidt

Taylor Chorney - Connor Carrick


Braden Holtby (starter) - Philipp Grubauer

Injured: Brooks Orpik (lower body), John Carlson (lower body), Michael Latta (upper 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

Nicolas Deslauriers - David Legwand - Matt Moulson

Defense pairs

Josh Gorges - Rasmus Ristolainen

Jake McCabe - Zach Bogosian

Mike Weber - Cody Franson


Chad Johnson (starter) – Linus Ullmark

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

Scratched: Marcus FolignoCarlo Colaiacovo

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Evgeny Kuznetsov considered day-to-day, will miss Sunday's game in Philadelphia

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Evgeny Kuznetsov considered day-to-day, will miss Sunday's game in Philadelphia

Evgeny Kuznetsov has been declared day-to-day with an undisclosed upper body injury, the Caps announced Saturday afternoon.

He will not play Sunday against the Flyers, marking the first time in four seasons that the durable 25-year-old center will have missed a game.

Kuznetsov, the Caps’ assists leader and first line pivot over the past week, was injured in the second period of Friday’s 6-3 win over the Islanders. On the play, he slashed on the arm by New York defenseman Thomas Hickey before he tumbled awkwardly into the end boards.


Kuznetsov did not return to the contest.

The Caps did not practice on Saturday as they made their way to Philadelphia, where they'll look to extend their winning streak to five games.  

The team, per usual, did not elaborate about the extent or nature of Kuznetsov’s injury. But it does seem to be a good sign that he was not listed as week-to-week—the designation the Caps typically reserve for more severe injuries. And with a two point lead on Pittsburgh in the Metro Division standings—and a game in hand—they can actually afford to be cautious with one of their most important players.


The injury does, however, come at a time when Kuznetsov appeared to be hitting his stride. Including the two assists he had racked up prior to leaving Friday’s game, Kuzy has amassed five goals and 11 assists in 10 games.    

Without Kuznetsov on Sunday, Nicklas Backstrom, Lars Eller and Jay Beagle will be the team’s most experienced centers. Travis Boyd and/or Chandler Stephenson figure to be deployed as the fourth pivot.

Coach Barry Trotz is expected to meet with reporters prior to Sunday’s game. It’s possible he’ll shed some more light on Kuznetsov’s outlook at that time.

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Who ya got? Trotz faces tough choice in net after Holtby's strong return

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Who ya got? Trotz faces tough choice in net after Holtby's strong return

Braden Holtby has made Barry Trotz’s weekend very difficult, but in a good way.

Back-to-back games against the New York Islanders offered the Capitals an opportunity to play both Philipp Grubauer and Holtby. Grubauer stayed hot earning another win for Washington. On Friday, Holtby got his first start since March 6 and played very well.

“A win is good,” Holtby said after the game. “I felt pretty comfortable. Some things to build off of and things that I want to get better at. It was a step in the right direction.”


A 22 save effort on Friday was bookended by two big saves. The first shot Holtby faced was a turnover on the power play that led to a dangerous shorthanded scoring opportunity for John Tavares early in the first period. Then in the third, with the Capitals leading 5-3 and the Islanders trying to mount a comeback, Holtby turned aside a breakaway opportunity for star rookie Mathew Barzal.

“I thought he was pretty solid,” Trotz said. “He looked really confident.”

“I felt a lot better,” Holtby said. “Not that I was feeling horrible before, it's just you get refreshed. It's like anything, you have a week off work, a holiday or something, you come back a little refreshed.”

And that brings us to Sunday.

On Sunday, the Capitals play the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers are a team in playoff position in desperate need of points after seven of their last eight games.

When asked on Wednesday who he thought would start Sunday’s game, Trotz said, “We're in a result business and we need some results so we'll see who is looking the sharpest and gives us the best chance to win.”

Both Grubauer and Holtby were impressive in their starts over the Islanders. You can’t argue Holtby is suddenly the hotter hand after one win considering how well Grubauer has played of late, but if Holtby remaisn the team’s No. 1, shouldn’t he get the next start after a strong winning performance?


Trotz was asked after the game who would start on Sunday after Holtby’s win.

“They're both playing well so I can't even answer that right now to be honest with you,” he said. “I do know that we have a number of games this week and whatever way go, obviously I'm going to sit down with the coaches and whatever way we go, I think they're both going to get some time this week.”

“I think you have to take it game-by-game,” Trotz added. “Bottom line is that you've got to make a decision and go with it and if your decision is that goalie A is a little hotter or you've just got a gut feel then you go with it and you have to live with it good or bad.”

So for now, it sounds as if we will see a rotation in net as Trotz continues evaluating which netminder gives the team the best chance to win in the playoffs. It is a tough position for the Caps’ bench boss, but, if both goalies continue to perform, having to choose between a hot Grubauer and a resurgent Holtby is a good problem to have and much preferable to having to choose between backup Grubauer and slumping Holtby.

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