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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Senators

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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Senators

The Capitals (31-7-3, 65 points) begin the second half of their season tonight when they take on the Ottawa Senators (19-16-6, 44 points) at Verizon Center (6:30 p.m. pregame, CSN). Here are our AAA Keys to the Game: 

An-tic-i-pation: Alex Ovechkin is one goal away from becoming the fifth-fastest player to reach 500 goals. After his thrilling two-goal performance in New York on Saturday, he now has 499 goals in 800 NHL games.

Trotz said he thinks Ovechkin is feeling less pressure to score his 500th goal than he was to score his 484th, which moved him past Sergei Fedorov and into first place among Russian-born NHL Players.

“Just his demeanor,” Trotz said. “We all know he’s going to get 500.”

Ovi vs. Hamburglar: Ovechkin has never scored a goal against Senators goaltender Andrew Hammond, who expects him to bring an arsenal of shots tonight.

"When he scored 499 [Saturday], Hammond said to me, 'This guy is going to have 500 shots tomorrow night, he is going to shoot from everywhere,'" Senators forward Bobby Ryan told the Senators’ website. 

"That guy seems to pass a milestone every week for the past little while here. It will be a special moment for him but let's just hope he can wait a few days. ... I don't hope he shoots from everywhere but you know he is going to."

Hammond is 3-3-2 this season with a 2.35 GAA and .927 SP.

Grubi Nights: Caps backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer (4-3-1, 2.39 GAA, .914 SP) will make his eighth start of the season and first since New Year’s eve when he stopped 33 shots in a 4-2 loss in Carolina, a game in which Barry Trotz said his team “wasted” a solid effort by their goalie. Grubauer lost his only other career appearance against the Senators.

Mojo out, Sill in: Caps forward Marcus Johansson will serve the second game of his two-game suspension for an illegal check to the head of Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey.  However, Zach Sill will return from his two-game suspension for his hit from behind on Boston defenseman Adam McQuaid. Sill is expected to replace Paul Carey on the Caps’ fourth line, but Trotz said there are lots of forwards with “bumps and bruises” and there is a chance Carey stays in the lineup to replace one of those forwards.

Where they stand: The Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning are tied for the final wild card spot in the East with 46 points, one behind the Bruins. The Sens have lost four of their last five and seven of their last nine. The Caps have won three straight and are 12-1-1 in their last 14 to open up a 16-point lead over the Rangers and Islanders.

Injury update: Defenseman John Carlson will miss his seventh straight game with a lower body injury, while Brooks Orpik will sit out his 27th straight game, also with a lower body injury. Both players could hit the ice at Kettler on Tuesday following a day off on Monday, but Trotz was giving no assurances before Sunday’s game.

“We’ll see where they are on Tuesday,” Trotz said. “It’s up to them and the trainers. There’s no urgency. We’ll make sure they are 100 percent and then we’ll throw them back in the fold.”

RELATED: Watch TONIGHT: Alex Ovechkin History in the Making - 10 p.m.

Here’s a look at tonight’s projected lineups:

CAPITALS

Forward lines

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie

Andre Burakovsky - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Justin Williams

Jason Chimera - Michael Latta - Tom Wilson

Brooks Laich – Zach Sill - Stanislav Galiev

Defense pairs

Matt Niskanen - Karl Alzner

Dmitry Orlov - Nate Schmidt

Aaron Ness - Taylor Chorney

Goaltenders

Philipp Grubauer (starter) - Braden Holtby

Injured: Brooks Orpik (lower body), John Carlson (lower body), Jay Beagle (upper body)

Scratched: Mike Richards, Paul Carey

Suspended: Marcus Johansson

SENATORS

Forward lines

Bobby Ryan – Kyle Turris – Mark Stone

Mike Hoffman – Mika Zibanejad – Milan Michalek

Max McCormick – Jean-Gabriel Pageau – Curtis Lazar

Shane Prince – Zack Smith – Chris Neil

Defense pairs

Fredrik Claesson – Erik Karlsson

Marc Methot – Cody Ceci

Patrick Wiercioch – Mark Borowiecki

Goaltenders

Andrew Hammond (starter) - Craig Anderson

Scratched: Alex ChiassonJared CowenChris Wideman

Injured: Chris Phillips (back), Clarke MacArthur (concussion)

MORE CAPITALS: Why the Capitals are the toast of the NHL

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Blackhawks fans tossed after directing racist remarks at Washington's Smith-Pelly

Blackhawks fans tossed after directing racist remarks at Washington's Smith-Pelly

CHICAGO—Four fans were ejected from United Center on Saturday night for taunting Devante Smith-Pelly as the Capitals’ winger sat in the penalty box.

The fans, according to a team spokesman, yelled “basketball, basketball, basketball” at Smith-Pelly, who is black. Smith-Pelly was in the box for fighting in the third period of an eventual 7-1 loss to the Blackhawks.

The taunts were confirmed by an off-ice official, the spokesman said, and the fans were subsequently removed from the arena.

Smith-Pelly did not speak with reporters after the game but is expected to address the incident at the team’s next media availability. The team is scheduled to practice Sunday at KeyBank Center in Buffalo.

Caps Coach Barry Trotz did not hold back when asked about the fans' comments.

“There’s absolutely no place in the game of hockey or our country for racism,” Trotz said. “I think it’s disgusting, and there’s no place for it. …It just shows ignorance.”

The Blackhawks responded on Twitter with an apology to Smith-Pelly, who is one of roughly 30 black players in the NHL.

February is Hockey is For Everyone month in the NHL.

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3 stars of the game: Caps suffer ugly loss to scuffling Blackhawks

3 stars of the game: Caps suffer ugly loss to scuffling Blackhawks

Just about everything that could go wrong did for the Capitals on Saturday in a 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Caps were coming off a strong 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday, but none of that carried over in the trip to Chicago. The Caps took on a Blackhawks team that had lost eight in a row, but Chicago quickly took control in the first period and never looked back.

Washington gave up 21 shots on goal in the first period and found themselves down 3-1 after the opening frame. Things did not get much better from there as they gave up another three goals in the final four minutes of the second.

Here are the three stars of the game.

1. Jonathan Toews: Toews opened up the scoring in the first period with a quick shot from the corner that caught Braden Holtby by surprise.

Later in the first, he recorded an assist as his pass sparked a breakout that led to Brandon Saad's deal that gave Chicago back the lead. The Caps tried to make a game of it in the second period, but Toews intercepted a pass from Brooks Orpik that led to a 2-on-0 with himself and Patrick Kane that Kane netted to give the Blackhawks a 4-1 lead and signaled to everyone that the rout was on. Saturday was only the second three-point night of the season for Toews.

2. Patrick Kane: Toews helped the Blackhawks take control early, but Kane helped provide the knockout punches in the second period. A bad pass from Orpik was intercepted by Toews that led to a 2-on-0 with Kane. Holtby made the initial save on Toews, but Kane was able to knock in the rebound for the goal.

Kane also added an assist on Artem Anisimov's power play goal which extended Chicago's lead to 6-1.

3. Tom Wilson: Before this one got out of hand, it looked like Wilson had erased the tough start for the Caps as he deflected a shot from Matt Niskanen into the net to get Washington on the board.

Saturday's tally was his third goal in two games and his 10th of the season, marking the first time in his career he has reached double digits in goals.