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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Wild

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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Wild

The Capitals (39-9-4, 82 points) will look to extend their four-game win streak tonight in St. Paul when they face the struggling Minnesota Wild (23-20-10, 56 points) at Xcel Energy Center (7:30 pregame, CSN+). Here are our AAA Keys to the Game:

No Richards, no Orpik: Caps center Mike Richards, who turned 31 today, will miss his first game due to injury since joining the Capitals. Richards got tangled up in the neutral zone with Predators forward Filip Forsberg early on Tuesday night and managed to stay in the game, logging 9:55 in ice time. With Richards out, look for Stan Galiev to replace him on a fourth line with Brooks Laich and Michael Latta.

Defenseman Brooks Orpik is expected to miss his 38th straight game with a lower body injury. Orpik could return to the lineup on Saturday night against the Dallas Stars. Until then, Dmitry Orlov and Taylor Chorney will remain on the CVaps’ third defense unit.

Where they stand: The Caps have built a 15-point lead over the New York Rangers and have won four in a row following back-to-back losses.  The Wild have lost six straight (0-3-3) and 11 of 12.

Goaltending matchup: The Caps will go with Braden Holtby, who is 26-1-3 in his last 30 decisions, while the Wild go with Devan Dubnyk, who has lost his last eight decisions.

Riding Suter: The Wild will be without injured defensemen Jonas Brodin (broken foot) and Jared Spurgeon (deep bruise), which means Mike Reilly and Nate Prosser will make up their third defense pairing. It also means more ice time for Ryan Suter, who ranks second in the NHL behind Erik Karlsson in average ice time with 28:40.  

Beyond regulation: While the Caps are 6-4 in games beyond regulation (3-1 in shootouts) the Wild are 1-10 beyond regulation (0-2 in shootouts).

RELATED: Pet rabbit calling for Wild coach to be fired

Here are projected lineups for both teams: 

CAPITALS 
Forward lines

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie  
Andre Burakovsky - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Justin Williams  
Jason Chimera - Marcus Johansson - Tom Wilson  
Stan Galiev - Brooks Laich - Michael Latta  

Defense pairings

Nate Schmidt - John Carlson  
Karl Alzner - Matt Niskanen  
Dmitry Orlov - Taylor Chorney  

Goaltenders

Braden Holtby (starter) - Philipp Grubauer  

Injured: Brooks Orpik (lower body), Mike Richards (undisclosed), Jay Beagle (hand). WILD 

Forward lines

Zach Parise - Mikko Koivu - Charlie Coyle  
Nino Niederreiter - Mikael Granlund - Jason Pominville  
Thomas Vanek - Erik Haula - Justin Fontaine  
Ryan Carter - Jarret Stoll - Jason Zucker  

Defense pairings

Ryan Suter - Matt Dumba  
Marco Scandella - Christian Folin  
Mike Reilly - Nate Prosser  

Goaltenders

Devan Dubnyk (starter) - Darcy Kuemper  

Injured: Jared Spurgeon (deep bruise), Jonas Brodin (foot) 
Scratched: Chris PorterNiklas Backstrom

MORE CAPITALS: ESPN projects Holtby to make Canadian WC team but not start

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3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Lightning

3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Lightning

After a rough start, the Caps battled back to make a game of it against Tampa Bay, but ultimately fell 4-2 to the Lightning. Here's why.

The first period

To put it simply, this game was lost in the opening period. Washington was the better team for the second and third but they could not overcome the 3-0 lead they spotted the Lightning in the first. Beyond the goals, the Caps just did not play well. Even the simplest of plays looked difficult as Washington struggled to get the puck out of their own zone, gave up numerous turnovers and scoring chances and just looked overmatched. Braden Holtby also looked shaky allowing three goals on just eight shots. Usually he is able to cover up some of the mistakes the defense makes it front of him, but he was not there to bail the team out on Tuesday in what was a really rocky start.

RELATED: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS FROM CAPS-LIGHTNING

Taking a penalty 34 seconds into the game

Entering Tuesday’s game, Tampa Bay boasted the second best power play unit in the league. Playing a disciplined game is part of every game plan, but that is especially true against such a dominant unit. Giving up a penalty just 34 seconds into the game was not an ideal start. The call itself was debatable. Brett Connolly was called for interference when he knocked over Dan Girardi in the offensive zone. The puck was just behind Girardi as he had lost control of it in his skates. The sticking point here is that Girardi no longer had possession and Connolly could have played the puck instead of the player. Most referees would probably let that go with the puck so close, but Connolly was not so lucky. Whether it was a good call or not, the Caps found themselves down a man and down a goal soon after as Brayden Point scored the power play tally.

A missed opportunity from Kuznetsov on one end, a goal for Nikita Kucherov on the other

Even after spotting the Lightning a 3-0 lead, the Caps made a game of it. Lars Eller struck on the power play in the second period and Alex Ovechkin pulled Washington to within one with about nine minutes left to play. Just over a minute later, Evgeny Kuznetsov stole the puck away from Nikita Kucherov, the frontrunner for league MVP this season, at the Tampa blue line giving the Caps a short 2-on-1. Defenseman Andrej Sustr was textbook on the play forcing Kuznetsov as far wide as he could go while still covering the passing lane and Kuznetsov elected to shoot from the faceoff dot rather than attempt the pass to T.J. Oshie.Andrei Vasilevskiy made a routine blocker save to deny what looked like a great opportunity to tie the game. As always happens in hockey, a failed opportunity on one end led to an opportunity in the other direction. Less than a minute later, Kucherov made up for his mistake by scoring a breakaway goal to put the game out of reach at 4-2.

MORE CAPITALS: KEMPNY EXCITED TO MOVE FROM LAST PLACE CHICAGO TO FIRST PLACE WASHINGTON

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3 stars of the game: Lightning strike 3 times in the first to burn Caps

3 stars of the game: Lightning strike 3 times in the first to burn Caps

The first 20 minutes of Tuesday's game did not go well for Washington. The Tampa Bay Lightning scored three times in the opening frame and rode that lead all the way to the 4-2 win.

With the game heading towards a repeat of their blowout loss to Chicago, the Capitals rebounded in the second period to make a game of it as Lars Eller scored on a power play. Alex Ovechkin pulled Washington within one in the third period, but Nikita Kucherov slammed the door shut with a breakaway goal to extend the lead back to 2.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Brayden Point: Tampa Bay won this game in the first period when they took a 3-0 lead. Point scored two of those three goals. His first came only 2:30 into the game. He retreated to the blue line on the power play believing Jay Beagle would clear the puck. When Beagle turned the puck over, he recognized it and immediately crashed the net, taking a Ryan Callahan pass in the slot and shooting it through the five-hole of Braden Holtby.

On his second goal, Anton Stralman saw an opportunity on the Caps’ line change and passed the puck up to Point at the blue line. Point turned on the jets to get behind the defense and went five-hole again on Holtby to make the score 3-0.

2. Alex Ovechkin: After the first period, Washington slowly took this game over for much of the remaining 40 minutes. Ovechkin was a big part of that as he totaled an incredible 19 shot attempts for the game. Nine of those shots were on goal and he found the back of the net in the third period for career goal No. 594.

3. Tom Wilson: Through the first period, the Caps looked well on their way to a repeat of the 7-1 debacle they suffered Saturday in Chicago. They had nothing going in this game until Wilson drew a trip from Vladislav Namestnikov in the second period. Eller would score on the resulting power play giving Washington some much-needed life.

The Namestnikov penalty was the 29th drawn penalty of the season for Wilson, which moves him into a tie with Matthew Tkachuk for the most drawn penalties in the NHL.