The Capitals (41-10-4, 86 points) travel to Brooklyn to face the New York Islanders (30-19-6, 66 points) tonight at Barclays Center (6:30 p.m. pregame, CSN). Here are our AAA Keys to the Game:
Return of Holtby: Braden Holtby (35-6-3, 2.16 GAA, .926 SP) returns after a one-game, four-day break and says he’s feeling strong after the break.
“It’s a little weird having practice where you feel fresh and have energy,” said Holtby, who is likely to start each of the next six games. “It’s kind of nice to work on a few things and now it’s back to work.”
Holtby was pulled after allowing four goals in the second period of the Caps’ 4-3 loss in Dallas on Saturday and has allowed three or more goals in each of his last three starts after.
“I don’t know if that’s him or us,” Caps coach Barry Trotz said. “I want to put it on us. When we weren’t so sharp he was very sharp. … I’m not blaming Holts at all. He’s saved our can a few times this year.”
Where the Caps stand: The Caps have won six of their last seven games and hold a five-point lead on the Chicago Blackhawks in the NHL standings, a 14-point lead on the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference and a 16-point lead on the Rangers in the Metro Division.
Where the Islanders stand: The Islanders sit third in the Metro Division, but are just one point ahead of the seventh-place Devils, and two ahead of the eighth-place Penguins and ninth-place Lightning. The Isles have won three of their last four.
Season series: The Caps have won both meetings, winning 4-1 in Brooklyn on Jan. 7 and 3-2 Feb. 4 at Verizon. Alex Ovechkin provided the winning goal in both games and has 28 goals and 43 points in 39 career games against the Isles.
In addition to leading the NHL with 1,662, the Isles have nine players with 20 or more points, led by center John Tavares, who is tied for the team lead in goals (21) and leads the team with 46 points.
“They’re deep,” Caps coach Barry Trotz said. “They have a lot of people who can hurt you. Their defense can really shoot it and they play hard every night. We respect the Islanders and how hard they play. We know it’s going to be a battle.”
Special teams: The Caps rank first in the NHL on the power play (23.7 percent) but went 0-for-5 against the Kings on Tuesdayand have just three power-play goals in their last nine games (3-for-33). The Islanders rank 10th on the power play (19.8 percent) and have notched a power-play in six straight games (7-for-22). The Caps are fifth on the penalty kill (84 percent), while the Isles rank second (87 percent).
Kuz control: With his fourth game-winning goal of the season on Tuesday Evgeny Kuznetsov now has 20 points in his last 14 games (3 goals, 17 assists).
Bura-cuda: Andre Burakovsky’s two points against the Kings gives him 17 points in his last 14 games (8 goals, 9 assists). He has at least one point in 12 of his last 14 games.
Chim dog: It was an empty netter but Jason Chimera now has scored a goal in three of his last four games.
Mojo rising: Marcus Johansson has earned four points in his last four games (1 goal, 3 assists) and has been a force on the Caps’ third line between left wing Jason Chimera and right wing Tom Wilson.
“He’s done a terrific job,” Trotz said. “There are little plays coming into his game that are really important. He’s given us a good defensive line; he’s given us a good offensive line. Marcus has grown in a lot of ways and it gives us a lot of flexibility.”
Shot machine: Ovechkin’s 10 shots against the Kings marked the fourth time this season he has tallied 10 or more shots in a game.
Here are projected lineups for both teams: