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AAA Keys to the Game: Dads watching Capitals vs. Panthers

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AAA Keys to the Game: Dads watching Capitals vs. Panthers

The Capitals (19-5-2, 40 points) visit the Florida Panthers (13-11-4, 30 points) tonight at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla. (CSN pregame 7 p.m.). Here are our AAA Keys to the Game:

What can Brown do for you: On each of his fathers’ trips coach Barry Trotz likes to give every player a chance to play in front of his father and tonight Chris Brown will make his season debut on a fourth line with center Michael Latta and left wing Brooks Laich. Brown injured his hand in a preseason game and missed the first month of the season. He had one goal in five games with the Caps last season. That will leave Andre Burakovsky and Stan Galiev as healthy scratches, along with defenseman Aaron Ness. All three could get into the lineup Saturday night in Tampa.

Grubi’s turn: Philipp Grubauer (2-1-1, 2.70 GAA, .900 save percentage) will make his first start in three weeks. Grubauer stopped 26 of 27 shots in the Caps’ last visit to Sunrise on Halloween night, a 2-1 overtime victory sealed by Evgeny Kuznetsov’s goal in extra time. The Panthers will turn to Al Montoya, who will make his first start since Dec. 4. Montoya is 3-1-1 with a 2.09 GAA and .926 save percentage for the Panthers. His overtime loss came to Grubauer and the Capitals on Oct. 31.

Trending: The Metropolitan Division-leading Caps have gained at least a point in eight straight games (7-0-1) and can extend their one-point lead over the Rangers with a win tonight. The Caps have three games in hand on the Rangers. The Panthers followed a five-game win streak with consecutive 4-2 losses to the Devils and Senators. 

Nicky on 600: Caps center Nicklas Backsrom has two goals and five assists during a six-game point streak. He played I n his 600th NHL game on Tuesday.

“It’s nice,” he said. “It’s gone so fast though. When I thought about it yesterday it was like, ‘I’m at 600 already. It’s gone quick. I guess you have to enjoy every moment even more now so it doesn’t end that quick.” 

Fun in the sun: The Caps have earned a point in 14 consecutive games against the Panthers (12-0-2) and are 22-4-3 against the Panthers since the start of the 2009-10 season. The Caps have outscored the Panthers 105-65 in that span. Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin has recorded 69 points (32 goals, 37 assists) in 53 career games against Florida, marking the fourth-most points he has registered against an NHL franchise (Winnipeg: 85, Tampa Bay: 77, Carolina: 74). Backstrom has 43 points (9 goals, 34 assists) in 40 career games against the Panthers, marking the third-most points he has earned against an NHL team (Carolina: 49, Tampa Bay: 44). Brooks Laich has earned more points against Florida (30) than any other NHL franchise. 

Taming the Panthers: Trotz described the Panthers’ top line of left wing Jonathan Huberdeau, center Aleksander Barkov and right wing Jaromir Jagr as a “heavy, puck protection” line, and their second line of Brandon Pirri, Vincent Trocheck and Reilly Smith as “scooters who can wheel and deal.” Florida’s third and fourth line are anchored by “hard” centers Derek MacKenzie and Dave Bolland. 

Jagr has 90 points in 78 career games against the Capitals. In parts of three seasons in Washington (2001-04) he recorded 201 points in 190 games (83 goals, 118 assists).

Road warriors: The Caps are an impressive 8-2-1 on the road this season, while the Panthers are 6-6-2 at home. The Panthers are 11-3-2 when scoring first and 8-2-0 when leading after the first period. The Caps are 13-1-0 when scoring first and 6-4-2 when allowing the first goal.

Special teams: The Caps rank third in the NHL on the power play (25.3 percent) and sixth on the penalty kill (84.1). The Panthers rank 12th on the power play (19.4) and 18th on the kill (79.8).

Shootout prowess: The Caps are 3-for-6 in shootout attempt this season, with Alex Ovechkin (1-for-1), Evgeny Kuznetsov (1-for-2), T.J. Oshie (1-for-2) and Nicklas Backstrom (0-for-1). Braden Holtby (2-0) has stopped all six shots he’s faced in shootouts.

Do it for Dad: The Caps are conducting their eighth annual mentors’ trip. Since 2008, the Capitals have posted a 9-4-0 record with their mentors in attendance.
Atlantic dominance: The Caps are an incredible  22-1-3 in their last 26 games against Atlantic Division foes.

Here is a look at projected lineups: 

CAPITALS

Forward lines

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie

Marcus Johansson - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Justin Williams

Jason Chimera - Tom Wilson - Jay Beagle

Brooks Laich - Michael Latta - Chris Brown

Defense pairs

Nate Schmidt - John Carlson

Karl Alzner - Matt Niskanen

Dmitry Orlov - Taylor Chorney

Goaltenders

Philipp Grubauer (starter) - Braden Holtby

Injured: Brooks Orpik (lower body)

Scratches: Andre BurakovskyStanislav GalievAaron Ness

PANTHERS

Forward lines

Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Jaromir Jagr

Brandon Pirri - Vincent Trocheck - Reilly Smith

Quinton Howden - Derek MacKenzie - Jussi Jokinen

Connor Brickley - Dave Bolland - Logan Shaw

Defense pairs

Willie Mitchell - Brian Campbell

Dmitry Kulikov - Erik Gudbranson

Steven Kampfer - Aaron Ekblad

Goaltenders 

Al Montoya (starter) - Roberto Luongo

Injured: Nick Bjugstad (upper body), Alex Petrovic (lower body)

Scratches: Shawn Thornton

MORE CAPITALS: 

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Capitals Extra Podcast: Trade deadline story time with Alan May

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NBC Sports Washington

Capitals Extra Podcast: Trade deadline story time with Alan May

Alan May knows a thing or two about the trade deadline.

Over the course of his NHL career, May was traded five total times, four at the trade deadline. He sits down with Rob Carlin on a special edition of the Capitals Extra Podcast to tell stories from his playing days about what it was like getting traded.

This one's a can't miss for hockey fans. You can listen to the episode here on the Capitals Extra page or with the player below.

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NHL Awards tracker: Where would the Caps' offense be without Ovechkin?

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USA TODAY Sports

NHL Awards tracker: Where would the Caps' offense be without Ovechkin?

The Hart Trophy is given to the player judged to be the most valuable to their team. With the Caps currently struggling in almost every aspect of the game, consider this: Just where would they be without Alex Ovechkin?

Washington ranks 10th in the NHL in goals per game with 3.05. Ovechkin leads the NHL in goals with 36. He has scored an incredible 19-percent of his team's goals. No one on the Caps is within 20 goals of the Caps' captain.

That's not a typo. Evgeny Kuznetsov ranks second on the team with 16 goals. No other team in the league has a larger separation between its top two scorers. In fact, only three teams have a difference that's in the double digits: Vancouver (11), San Jose (10) and New Jersey (10).

Ovechkin is almost singlehandedly propping up Washington as a top-ten offense. If you think about just where this offense would be without him, there's a pretty strong case to be made that Ovechkin is as valuable to his team this season as any other player in the league.

SEE THIS WEEK'S 2018 NHL AWARDS TRACKER HERE

Here are the Caps' hopefuls for awards this season:

John Carlson

In contention for: Norris

Carlson is fifth among all defensemen with 45 points, but his case goes beyond the numbers. With a blue line that has featured two rookies the majority of the season, an aging veteran in Brooks Orpik and that had to deal with an injury to Matt Niskanen, the Caps have asked a lot of Carlson this season and he has always been up to the task.

Alex Ovechkin

In contention for: Hart

Few players, if any, are as important to their team's offensive production and therefore its success than Ovechkin has been this season.

Check out who the top candidates are for the league's major individual awards in this week's 2018 NHL Awards Tracker!