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AAA Keys to the Game: Caps vs. Blue Jackets

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AAA Keys to the Game: Caps vs. Blue Jackets

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:

CAPITALS

Forward lines

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie

Andre Burakovsky - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Justin Williams

Jason Chimera - Marcus Johansson - Tom Wilson

Brooks Laich - Zach Sill - Michael Latta

Defense pairs

Matt Niskanen - Karl Alzner

Dmitry Orlov - Nate Schmidt

Aaron Ness - Taylor Chorney

Goaltenders

Braden Holtby (starter) - Philipp Grubauer

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

Scratched: Stanislav GalievRyan Stanton

BLUE JACKETS

Forward lines

Boone Jenner - Brandon Dubinsky - Cam Atkinson

Scott Hartnell - Alexander Wennberg - Brandon Saad

Gregory Campbell - Ryan Johansen - Nick Foligno

Rene Bourque - William Karlsson - David Clarkson

Defense pairs

Ryan Murray - Jack Johnson

Fedor Tyutin - Dalton Prout

Justin Falk – David Savard

Goaltenders

Curtis McElhinney - Anton Forsberg

Injured: Cody Goloubef (broken jaw), Markus Hannikainen (shoulder), Matt Calvert (knee), Sergei Bobrovsky (groin)

Scratched: Andrew BodnarchukJared BollKevin Connauton

MORE CAPITALS: Caps announce Beagle hand surgery, recovery timeline

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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.