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Holtby back in net as Capitals face Islanders on road

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Holtby back in net as Capitals face Islanders on road

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.

[RELATED: NFL receiver Roddy White tweets he's an Ovechkin fan]

Here are projected lineups for both teams:

CAPITALS
Forward lines

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie  
Andre Burakovsky - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Justin Williams  
Jason Chimera - Marcus Johansson - Tom Wilson  
Brooks Laich - Mike Richards - Michael Latta  

Defense pairs

Matt Niskanen - Karl Alzner  
Nate Schmidt - John Carlson  
Brooks Orpik - Dmitry Orlov  

Goaltenders

Braden Holtby  (starter) - Philipp Grubauer  

Injured: Jay Beagle (upper body) 
Scratched: Stanislav Galiev    


ISLANDERS 
Forward lines

Mikhail Grabovski - John Tavares - Ryan Strome  
Nikolay Kulemin - Frans Nielsen - Kyle Okposo  
Anders Lee - Brock Nelson - Josh Bailey  
Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Cal Clutterbuck  

Defense pairs

Nick Leddy - Johnny Boychuk  
Brian Strait - Travis Hamonic  
Thomas Hickey - Marek Zidlicky  

Goaltenders

Thomas Greiss  (starter) -  Jaroslav Halak  

Injured: Calvin de Haan (lower body), Eric Boulton (lower body), Adam Pelech (upper body) 
Scratched: Jean-Francois Berube, Steve Bernier  

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3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

You may think this was an ugly four-game road trip for the Caps, but with a 3-2 win in Buffalo on Monday, Washington managed to earn five out of a possible eight points.

Here is why the Caps beat the Sabres and managed to save the road swing.

A missed high-stick (maybe) from Ovechkin

Ovechkin scored the first goal of the game in the second period as he deflected a high-shot from Christian Djoos down past goalie Chad Johnson. But did the deflection come on a high stick? The play was reviewed and the goal was ultimately upheld. According to the NHL, it was determined that "video review supported the Referee's call on the ice that Alex Ovechkin's stick was at or below the height of the crossbar when he tipped the puck into the Buffalo net."

NBC Sports Washington analyst Alan May broke the play down during the second intermission and made his case for why the NHL actually got the call wrong.

Was that a high stick? I don't know. As compelling an argument as May made, it still looks inconclusive which means the review made the right call. What surprises me is that the referee did not disallow the goal on the initial call.

Whether the review is truly inconclusive or flat out wrong, Washington was fortunate to walk away from this sequence with the goal.

MORE CAPITALS: BIZARRE SEQUENCE LEADS TO CAPS SCORING AND GETTING PENALIZED AT THE SAME TIME

A centimeter of ice

Hockey is a game of inches and it took less than an inch to put Washington up 2-0. When an Evgeny Kuznetsov shot hit off the boards and bounced back to the front of the net, it sparked a scrum next to goalie Chad Johnson. Eventually, John Carlson was able to get a swipe on the puck sending it trickling to the goal line, but Kyle Okposo was there waiting and appeared to kick it out to safety just before it crossed. A review triggered by the Situation Room, however, revealed that the puck had just barely managed to cross the goal line before Okposo got to it.

Here's the view the NHL released after the review:

Philipp Grubauer's third period

After dominating the first 40 minutes of the game and taking a 2-0 lead, Buffalo predictably made a late push in the third period with two goals to pull within one. Washington outshot the Sabres in the first and second periods, but Buffalo reversed that trend in a big way in the third as they outshot the Caps 17-6. Grubauer turned aside 15 of those shots and was impressive after barely being tested in the first two periods.

RELATED: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS OF THE GAME FROM CAPS-SABRE

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3 stars of the game: Caps knock out the punchless Sabres

3 stars of the game: Caps knock out the punchless Sabres

Coming off an ugly 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, a Buffalo Sabres team missing star Jack Eichel was just what the doctor ordered for the Caps to get back on track. Washington dominated the first two periods and then survived a late surge from Buffalo for the 3-2 win.

After battling to a scoreless first, Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson spotted Washington a 2-0 lead in the second. They then held on in the third period as Buffalo began to tilt the ice in their favor, with Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring the empty-netter to put this game out of reach. Evander Kane would pull Buffalo within one, but with only three seconds left it was too little, too late.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Alex Ovechkin: Ovechkin opened up the scoring in the second period as he deflected down an innocent shot from Christian Djoos past Chad Johnson.

Ovechkin also set a physical tone as he battled with defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen all game long. After taking a high elbow from Ristolainen early in the game Ovechkin skated up to Ristolainen prior to the faceoff on his next shift and let him know that it was on. 

2. John Carlson: Carlson had a hand in both of Washington's first two goals. He recorded a secondary assist on Ovechkin's goal as he made a blue line pass to Djoos which Djoos fired on net and Ovechkin deflected. Carlson then managed to hit the puck past the goal line in a scrum next to Johnson. It looked initially like Kyle Okposo had managed to kick out the puck just before it crossed, but Carlson was awarded the goal as a review showed the puck had completely crossed the line.

3. Philipp Grubauer: A Sabres team that ranks last in the NHL in scoring and that was also without its leading scorer did not test Grubauer much in the first two periods. Facing a 2-0 deficit, however, Buffalo made a third period push to try to tie the game, but Grubauer was up to the task as he turned aside 15 of the 17 shots he faced in the final 20 minutes. He finished with 32 total saves on the night.