The Capitals (12-5-1, 25 points) will look to make good on their promise not to lose back-to-back games this season when they take on the Colorado Avalanche (7-11-1, 15 points) tonight at Verizon Center (7 p.m., CSN). Here are our AAA Keys to the Game:
More time for Sunshine: With Brooks Orpik sidelined with a lower body injury, defenseman Nate Schmidt, known in the locker room as Minnesota Sunshine, has seen an increase in ice time, which jumped from the 17-minute range to a career-high 23:15 in the Caps’ 3-2 loss to the Stars on Thursday.
“His biggest asset is his legs to transport the puck and he can beat people up the ice,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “He’s had some good looks (at the net) and rattled some bars. He’s come right down Main Street, he just hasn’t found the back of the net.”
Stopping an Avalanche: The Avs followed up a three-game win streak with consecutive losses to the Maple Leafs and Penguins. Despite their record they have been outscored this season by just one goal. They are propelled by a first line of Gabriel Landeskog (5-8-13), Nathan MacKinnon (8-12-20) and Matt Duchene (10-7-17).
“They’re going to be a handful for whoever is out there against them,” Trotz said Trotz, who fought fire with fire Thursday night by using the Caps’ top line against the Stars No. 1 unit.
“They have lots of speed and they’re very dangerous,” Trotz said. “They stack things up in neutral zone with a 1-3-1 set (one forechecker, three in the neutral zone). And they have dynamic people on the back end with (Tyson) Barrie, (Nick) Holden, (Erik) Johnson and (Francois) Beauchemin.”
Goaltending battle: The Caps will go back to Braden Holtby (10-4-0, 1.94, .922), who was given the night off on Friday after winning in overtime in Detroit Thursday night. Holtby has an excellent career mark on Saturdays. He is 31-11-5 with eight shutouts, a 2.09 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage. He ranks ranks tied for first in the NHL in wins and fourth in goals-against average (minimum 300 minutes).
Holtby is expected to go up against Reto Berra, who is 4-5-0 with a 2.08 GAA and impressive .934 save percentage.
When it counts: The Caps have allowed the first goal of the game in 11 of their 18 games this season but are 6-4-1 in those games. A big reason is they’ve outscored opponents 15-11 in second periods and 22-16 in the thirds. They are 6-1-0 when scoring first.
Special: The Caps rank sixth in the NHL on the power play and fourth in the NHL on the penalty kill, while the Avalanche ranks 16th on the power play and 23rd on the kill. Trotz says he likes the determination he has seen from his penalty killers, led by forwards Brooks Laich, Jay Beagle, Jason Chimera, Justin Williams, T.J. Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson and defensemen John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Matt Niskanen and, lately, Nate Schmidt.
Home again: The Caps are 6-3-1 at Verizon Center this season and are a perfect 4-0-0 on Saturday nights this season, outscoring opponents 14-7 in those games.
Here are projected lineups for both teams:
Injured: Brooks Orpik (lower body)
Scratches: Andre Burakovsky
Scratches: Zach Redmond