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Who will catch the Lightning in Atlantic race?

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Who will catch the Lightning in Atlantic race?

Throughout this week, while the rest of the NHL gets into game action and the Capitals impatiently await Saturday’s season opener against the New Jersey Devils, we’ll take a look at how we think the Eastern and Western Conference standings will shake out and which team will sip from the Stanley Cup next June.

Today, we predict how the Atlantic Division will shake out:

1. Tampa Bay Lightning

Steven Stamkos scored 43 goals last season and should be closer to 50 this season with talented forwards Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov around him. Ben Bishop proved himself in the playoffs last spring but it’s always harder to get to the Final the second time around.

2. Montreal Canadiens

The Habs had the best goaltender (Carey Price) and one of the most dynamic defensemen (P.K. Subban) in the NHL last season, but lost to the Lightning in the second round of the playoffs. So they went out and signed former Caps sniper Alex Semin to a one-year deal and acquired Zack Kassian from Vancouver.  

RELATED Ovechkin, Caps ready to embrace expectations

3. Detroit Red Wings

With Jeff Blashill behind the bench, Mike Green on the blue line and Brad Richards down the middle, the Red Wings made some significant additions over the summer to a veteran team that  leans too heavily on veteran Pavel Datsyuk, who is coming off ankle surgery.

4. Florida Panthers

With veteran right wing Jaromir Jagr, 43, and goaltender Roberto Luongo, 36, the Panthers are hoping some veteran leadership will help speed the development of talented defenseman Aaron Ekblad and young forwards Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad and Aleksander Barkov. But can they squeak into the playoffs?

5. Boston Bruins

The Bruins didn’t just fire general manager Peter Chiarelli, they gutted their roster by trading Milan Lucic, Dougie Hamilton and Reilly Smith and seeing Carl Soderberg sign with Colorado. That puts a lot of pressure on Patrice Bergeron and Tuukka Rask to keep the Bruins afloat.  

6. Buffalo Sabres

The excitement over newcomers Jack Eichel, Evander Kane and Ryan O’Reilly, along with new head coach Dan Bylsma, has the fans in Buffalo thinking playoffs. That’s probably a stretch for a team that finished last in the NHL last season, but it will be a lot more difficult coming out of Buffalo with two points.

7. Ottawa Senators

Andrew Hammond came out of nowhere to lead the Senators on a late-season run that fell just short last season and Hammond will be hard-pressed to live up to last year’s hype. The Sens have one of the league’s top offensive defensemen in Erik Karlsson, but will need more from Bobby Ryan (18 goals) if they hope to beat out Florida and/or Boston for a playoff spot.    

8. Toronto Maple Leafs

Mike Babcock can coach, but he can’t score goals and without Phil Kessel the Leafs are going to have a tough time finding the back of the net. James van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri will do their part but the Leafs are in rebuild mode and are a long shot to get into the playoffs. 

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Game 58: Capitals at Blackhawks Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

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USA TODAY Sports

Game 58: Capitals at Blackhawks Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Chicago Blackhawks

Where: United Center, Chicago, Ill.

When: 8:30 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Blackhawks will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Blackhawks game on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

You can also stream the game online with no cable TV subscription on fuboTV (try for free!).

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-BLACKHAWKS GAME?

The Capitals (33-17-7) take on the Blackhawks (24-26-8) Saturday, February 17 at 8:30 p.m. ET in Chicago.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-BLACKHAWKS GAME ON?

The Capitals-Blackhawks game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off with Capitals FaceOff at 7:30 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 8:00 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington for Caps Extra following the game, Caps Overtime at 11:30 p.m. and Caps in 30 at 12:30 a.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

7:30 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
8:00 p.m. — Caps GameTime
8:30 p.m. — Capitals at Blackhawks
11:00 p.m. — Caps Extra
11:30 p.m. — Caps Overtime
12:30 a.m. — Caps in 30

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTED LINES FOR THE CAPITALS-BLACKHAWKS GAME?

Here are the projected lines for the Caps-Blackhawks game:

Forwards
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Alex Chiasson - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie
Brett Connolly - Lars Eller - Andre Burakovsky
Chandler Stephenson - Jay Beagle - Devante Smith-Pelly

Defensemen
Christian Djoos - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Madison Bowey

Braden Holtby starts with Philipp Grubauer as backup

Scratches: Jakub Vrana, Taylor Chorney

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-BLACKHAWKS GAME?

The Capitals-Blackhawks game, as well as Caps GameTime and Caps Extra, is available to stream live here through NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and is available to authenticated NBC Sports Washington subscribers on desktops, tablets, mobile devices and connected TVs anywhere in the United States.

The game is also available to stream, along with all the pregame and postgame shows, on fuboTV (try for free).

CAPITALS-BLACKHAWKS OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.

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NHL Awards tracker: How Malkin is helping Ovechkin's case for the Hart

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USA TODAY Sports

NHL Awards tracker: How Malkin is helping Ovechkin's case for the Hart

A week by week look at where the race for the major individual NHL awards stands and which Caps could be in contention.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have been red-hot as of late and so has Evgeni Malkin. In his last nine games, Malkin has tallied a whopping 11 goals and 17 points. His current run has some people talking about him contending for the Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player.

But if you want to talk about Malkin for the Hart, you have to talk about Alex Ovechkin as well.

Malkin has 66 points this season, Ovechkin has 65. Even with his impressive goal run of late, Malkin still trails Ovechkin in the goal-scoring race 34-32. What's more, Ovechkin's Capitals still hold a three-point lead over Pittsburgh with two games in hand in the Metropolitan Division.

Granted all of this could change by next week. Perhaps Malkin will pass Ovechkin in goals or the Penguins will pass the Caps in the standings which will change the conversation. Until then, however, there's no way to push Malkin's Hart candidacy without thinking about Ovechkin. What he is doing at the age of 32 with a Capitals team in which no one really knew what to expect is more impressive than what the 31-year-old Malkin is doing with players like Phil Kessel and Sidney Crosby with the defending Stanley Cup champions.

Here are the Caps' hopefuls for awards this season:

John Carlson

In contention for: Norris

Carlson is third among all defensemen with 45 points, but his case goes beyond the numbers. With two rookies on the blue line and an injury to Matt Niskanen, the Caps have asked a lot of Carlson this season and he has always been up to the task.

SEE THIS WEEK'S 2018 NHL AWARDS TRACKER HERE

Braden Holtby

In contention for: Vezina

Holtby is on pace to be a 40-win goalie for the fourth consecutive season. He would be the first goalie in NHL history to accomplish that feat.

Alex Ovechkin

In contention for: Hart

If Malkin is a Hart candidate, so is Ovechkin who has done more with less in Washington this season.

Barry Trotz

In contention for: Jack Adams

The Caps still hold a three-point lead in the Metropolitan Division despite having two rookies on the blue line, dealing with more injuries than they have seen in years and down offensive years for some of its top players. Trotz deserves a lot of credit for that.

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