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Caps look to outshoot surging Stars

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Caps look to outshoot surging Stars

After a strong effort in Detroit Wednesday night the Caps (12-4-1, 25 points) are back at Verizon Center tonight (6:30 pregame, CSN) to take on the red-hot Dallas Stars (15-4-0, 30 points). Here are our AAA Keys to the Game:

Grubauer between the pipes: After playing in a warm Joe Louis Arena that goaltender Braden Holtby described as a sauna, backup Philipp Grubauer (2-0-1, 2.59 GAA, .899) will get the call for the Caps, who are looking to build on a 6-2-1 home record.
“Grubauer’s undefeated, so it’ll work,” Trotz said two hours before puck drop. “They’re both big parts to the team. There’s no need (for Holtby) to go back-to-back when we’re playing every other night.”
This will be Grubauer’s first career game against the Stars. He’s expected to face Kari Lehtonen (8-1-0, 2.38, .921). Lehtonen has a career mark of 15-6-2 against the Caps with a 2.58 GAA and .923 SP.

No Orpik: Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik will miss his fourth straight game with a lower body injury. Trotz has repeatedly said Orpik is “close” to returning to the lineup. His next chance will be Saturday night when the Colorado Avalanche visit the Phone Booth.
Without Orpik, Nate Schmidt will remain on a top pairing with John Carlson, while Taylor Chorney will continue playing on a third defense pairing with Dmitry Orlov.

Late night: The Capitals did not arrive back in D.C. until the early morning hours of Thursday, while the Stars were already tucked into their hotel rooms, having last played Tuesday night in Buffalo, a 3-1 win.
Trotz said the late night, along with the warm building in Detroit, will make tonight’s game a greater test for his players.
“I thought Scotty (Bowman) was still in the building heating up the (locker) rooms,” Trotz said. “Guys need to make sure they get the fluids back in them. Back-to-backs are a test but it’s not an excuse.
“We’ve just got to come out and play and be mentally strong against a team that’s very strong offensively and playing well defensively. They’ve got two strong goaltenders (Antti Niemi and Lehtonen), the No. 1 power play (actually second at 29.3 percent) and they’ve got (Jamie) Benn (12-14-26) and (Tyler) Seguin, (10-17-27) who are just dynamic. They’re probably the best 1-2 punch in the league right now in terms of production.”

Run and gun hockey?: The Stars are the NHL’s top-scoring team, averaging 3.58 goals per game. The Caps rank fifth, averaging 3.00 goals per game.
But both teams have done a good job of keeping the puck out of their net. The Caps rank fifth in the NHL in goal allowed per game (2.24), while the Stars rank 14th (2.53).
“They play a fast game,” said Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen, who was a first-round draft pick (28th overall) of the Stars in 2005 and played his first four NHL seasons in Dallas. “If you turn the puck over they’ll kill you.”
While Niskanen faces the team that drafted him, Stars center Cody Eakin is facing the team that drafted him in the third round of the 2009 NHL draft (85th overall). Eakin was dealt from the Caps to the Stars along with a second-round draft pick for Mike Ribeiro in 2012. In 19 games this season he has five goals and two assists.
Historically speaking: The Stars have won seven straight games against the Capitals and are 4-0-0 in their last four visits to Verizon Center, where they are 8-2-1 in their last 11 visits.

Tonight’s game will feature two of the winningest coaches in NHL history. Stars coach Lindy Ruff is eighth on the all-time wins list with 667, five behind Mike Keenan, while Trotz ranks 12th at 614, three behind Jacques Lemaire.

Here are tonight’s projected lineups:

CAPITALS
Forward lines
Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Marcus Johansson – Evgeny Kuznetsov - Andre Burakovsky
Jason Chimera - Jay Beagle - Justin Williams
Brooks Laich- Michael Latta - Tom Wilson

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

Goaltenders
Philipp Grubauer (starter) - Braden Holtby
Injured: Brooks Orpik (lower body)
Scratches: Stanislav Galiev

STARS
Forward lines
Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Patrick Sharp
Antoine Roussel - Cody Eakin - Valeri Nichushkin
Mattias Janmark - Jason Spezza - Patrick Eaves
Colton Sceviour - Vernon Fiddler - Ales Hemsky

Defense pairs
Alex Goligoski - John Klingberg
Johnny Oduya - Jason Demers
Jyrki Jokipakka - Jordie Benn

Goaltenders
Kari Lehtonen (starter) - Antti Niemi
Injured: None
Scratches: Jamie Oleksiak, Travis Moen

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Blackhawks fans tossed after directing racist remarks at Washington's Smith-Pelly

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NBC Sports Washington

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.