The Capitals (28-7-2, 58 points) had their nine-game win streak snapped in Carolina on New Year's Eve and visit John Tortorella’s Columbus Blue Jackets (14-22-3, 31 points) tonight at Nationwide Arena (6:30 p.m. pregame, CSN). Here are our AAA Keys to the Game:
Chasing history: Alex Ovechkin is four goals shy of becoming the 43rd player in NHL history to record 500 goals. He’s also four games shy of playing in his 800th NHL game. If he stays healthy, Game No. 800 will come in New York a week from today.
Chasing Marty: Braden Holtby (24-4-1, 1.86 GAA, .934 SP) is expected to make his 31st start of the season. He is on pace for an incredible 53 wins this season, which would shatter the NHL record of 48 victories set by Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur in 2006-07. Holtby is 16-0-1 in his last 18 games with two shutouts, a 1.76 GAA and .942 SP. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Holtby is the first goaltender to record a point in at least 17 straight decisions since 2010-11 (Roberto Luongo: 16-0-5). In 10 career games against Columbus Holtby is 6-2-1 with a 2.88 GAA and .900 SP.
In the other net: With No. 1 goalie Sergei Bobrovsky coming off a groin injury that forced him to miss nine games, the Blue Jackets are expected to go with backup Curtis McElhinney, who is 2-6-2 with a 3.27 GAA and .891 SP in 14 appearances this season. In three career starts against the Caps McElhinney is 1-2-0 with a 4.73 GAA and .846 SP.
Line shuffle: With center Jay Beagle sidelined the next 6 weeks following hand surgery, Marcus Johansson has moved into his spot on the third line between wingers Jason Chimera and Tom Wilson. That leaves a fourth line of Zach Sill between wingers Brooks Laich and Michael Latta.
And on the back end: John Carlson will miss his fourth straight game with a lower body injury. That leaves Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen on the top unit, Nate Schmidt and Dmitry Orlov on the second unit and Taylor Chorney and Aaron Ness on the third unit.
Where they stand: The Caps lead the Metro Division by 11 points over the New York Islanders but are coming off a 4-2 loss in Carolina on New Year’s eve. The Blue Jackets are dead last in the NHL but are coming off a 6-3 win over the NHL-leading Dallas Stars on Tuesday night.
December to remember: The Capitals went 11-2-1 in December, marking their most wins in a single month since April 2013 (11). The Caps ranked third in the NHL in goals-against per game (1.93) during the month, fourth in penalty kill percentage (89.4), fifth in goals per game (2.93) and seventh in power-play percentage (22.5).
Torts effect: When the Blue Jackets hired head coach John Tortorella on Oct. 21 they were 0-7-0. They have gone 14-15-3 since then. Tortorella was critical of his veteran players last weekend when he said he was concerned his young players might develop bad habits by watching the play of his veterans.
Auld Lang Syne: In the calendar year of 2015 the Capitals ranked first in the NHL in wins (55) and point percentage (.699). Alex Ovechkin led the NHL in goals (57), power-play goals (25) and shots (400), ranked second in points (85), tied for third in game-winning goals (10) and fourth in points per game (1.05). Braden Holtby led the NHL in wins (49), ranked third in shutouts (8), fourth in save percentage (.929) and tied for fourth in goals-against average (2.04). Nicklas Backstrom ranked third in the NHL in assists (56).
Refuse to lose (twice): The Caps are a perfect 8-0-0 following losses this season, outscoring opponents 28-12 in those games. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the last NHL team to go an entire season without back-to-back losses were the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens.
Who’s hot: Ovechkin has four goals in his last three games. Brandon Saad has nine points (four goals, five assists) in his past six games.
Here are tonight’s projected lineups:
MORE CAPITALS: Caps announce Beagle hand surgery, recovery timeline