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4 things to know for Caps-Blue Jackets: Backstrom returns for divisional showdown

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4 things to know for Caps-Blue Jackets: Backstrom returns for divisional showdown

ARLINGTON, Va. -- The Capitals (22-4-5) are back home at last. In their first home game since Nov. 29, they will host the division rival Columbus Blue Jackets (11-14-4) for the first time this season. They will end up playing Columbus three times in the next 18 days. Tune in to NBC Sports Washington for coverage starting with Caps FaceOff Live at 6 p.m. and Caps Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. bringing you up to puck drop at 7 p.m. Stick with NBC Sports Washington after the game for Caps Postgame Live, D.C. Sports Live and Caps Overtime Live.

Here's what you need to know for Monday's game.

Backstrom is officially back

Nicklas Backstrom will be back in the lineup after missing eight games with an upper-body injury. He and Todd Reirden confirmed on Sunday that he was ready to play and he remained on the top line for Monday's morning skate. Here's a look at the lines:

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin - Lars Eller - Richard Panik
Brendan Leipsic - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Nick Jensen
Jonas Siegenthaler - Radko Gudas

Braden Holtby starts

This is the first time the team will have its full lineup all season after dealing with injuries and suspensions through the first 31 games.

The third line is together again

With the full lineup together, that means we will finally get to see the third line of Hagelin, Eller and Panik together at last. This was the projected third line heading into the season, but that trio has spent very little time together thus far. Through 31 games, those three players have only been on the ice together at 5-on-5 for a grand total of 23:13.

The lack of production from the third line has been a running storyline this season, but the injuries and suspension has shaken up the third line more than any other which may have something to do with it. Eller has spent much of the season in the top six with the injury to Backstrom and the suspension to Kuznetsov. Hagelin and Panik, meanwhile, both spent time on LTIR.

Careful with the defensemen

Washington has only one healthy scratch for this game, forward Travis Boyd, and it appears things are going to stay that way for the foreseeable future. After the Caps survived the California road trip with only six defensemen, they now return home and to the East Coast for a long stretch. They will not leave the Eastern time zone again until February.

While holding only six defensemen is not ideal and can lead to unforeseen issues, given the team's salary cap constraints, they will keep the minimum number of blueliners while they remain East in an attempt to bank some desperately needed cap space.

"I think right now that's how things are set up cap-wise for us to do that and then continue to stay on top of it every day and make sure that we're not having any issues and we have an easy way to get some players in if we need to last minute," Reirden said Sunday. "I've been having quite a few calls with [Hershey Bears head coach Spencer Carbery] just to make sure we're on the same page and we're able to react accordingly."

Columbus and Washington are headed in opposite directions

It became a trendy opinion in the offseason that Columbus was going to be pretty good this season despite losing Sergei Bobrovsky, Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene in the summer. As it turns out, losing your three best players actually does negatively impact a team and Columbus is struggling.

The Blue Jackets have lost four straight and sit in seventh place in the Metro. The Caps have won six straight and are in first place in the NHL. Columbus ranks 30th in the NHL in goals for per game, the Caps rank 3rd.

That does not mean this will be an easy game for Washington as matchups against Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella never are.

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Capitals vs. Predators: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, how to watch

Capitals vs. Predators: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, how to watch

After sitting out the Capitals' 4-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens due to a suspension for skipping the All-Star Game, Alex Ovechkin returns to game action on Wednesday for Washington's home contest against the Predators.

Nashville has dropped three of its last four while the Capitals are riding a four-game winning streak.

Here's everything you need to know before puck drop.

CAPITALS vs. PREDATORS: HOW TO WATCH

What: Washington Capitals vs. Nashville Predators

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: Wednesday, January 29, 7:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: The Capitals-Predators game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. (NBC Sports channel Finder)

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

Radio: Caps Radio 24/7

CAPITALS-PREDATORS TV SCHEDULE:

6:30 PM: Caps Faceoff Live

7:00 PM: Caps Pregame Live

7:30 PM: Capitals vs. Predators

10:00 PM: Caps Postgame Live

10:30 PM: Caps Overtime Live

CAPITALS-PREDATORS INJURY REPORT:

Capitals: None

Canadiens: Ryan Ellis (upper body/OUT), Colton Sissons (upper body/OUT)

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

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What makes Alex Ovechkin so hard to stop?

What makes Alex Ovechkin so hard to stop?

With Alex Ovechkin’s one-game suspension over, the NHL now once again faces the seemingly impossible task of trying to find a way to stop the Great 8. Even at 34 years old, Ovechkin remains one of the top goal scorers in the NHL with 34 on the season. He is currently on pace for 56 goals which is almost unfathomable for a player of his age.

Many players in the NHL catch fire before defenses begin to figure them out or until Father Time catches up to them. Coaches and defenses figure out ways to keep star players in check. But not Ovechkin.

“You feel like you're covering him, but he always finds a way,” Nashville Predators defenseman Roman Josi said. “He needs just a tiny bit of room to score goals and that's why he has so many goals.”

Not only is Ovechkin the leading active scorer in the NHL by a wide margin -- he leads second place Patrick Marleau by 133 goals -- but he is such a prolific scorer that he could potentially make a run at the untouchable goal record held by Wayne Gretzky.

It is not as if Ovechkin is catching anyone by surprise at this point. Teams know what they are in for when they play the Caps and still they cannot find a way to slow down this grey-haired, 34-year-old veteran player.

It is not hard to figure out the biggest reason for Ovechkin's success: his shot. Once Ovechkin gets his shot off, it is hard for a goalie to get in front of it.

“He's not afraid to put anything on net,” Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck said. “He's got a really good release and if you give him space, he'll take it and he'll make you pay for it.”

“It kind of curves, changing direction every time so it's pretty hard to stop for a goalie,” Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy said. “Like knuckleball, right? So it's very hard to stop.”

Knowing that his shot is so lethal, the focus of a defense must be to prevent him from getting his shot away in the first place. Doing that, however, is easier said than done.

“It's always a challenge playing against him,” Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. “He's got that mean streak to his game. When he's coming at full speed it's going to hurt. He gets physical, he gets into the game more. He's always going to get scoring changes, that's how good they are as a team and that's how good he is.”

“He just can score from anywhere inside the blue line so you've got to get up on him,” Calgary Flames defenseman Mark Giordano said. “ It's been pretty impressive to watch him over the years. You sort of think teams would come up with a gameplan to stop him, but you can't.”

That’s a feeling Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy can relate to.

“[The power play] is where I think you have the biggest challenge with that group of five guys and how to frustrate him, maybe to taking that shot away,” Cassidy said. “Five-on-five, we'll play him like anybody else, try to get a body on him as much as possible.”

It is essentially accepted around the league that if you give Ovechkin an opportunity with the puck, he is going to be able to find a way to get his shot off and get on the scoresheet. He does not need much room to shoot and when he does, it's lethal.

There is only so much you can do when a power forward of Ovechkin's size comes barreling down on you. If you play him too tight, he can create space with his physicality. Play him too loose and he will fire shots from anywhere.

That leaves a defense with only a few strategies.

“Try to keep the puck out of his hand is one thing, stay out of the box is another thing,” Hedman said. “He's got that quick release, he's got that one-timer down to a T obviously. … It's just trying to eliminate them to a few a game. You look at a game sheet and he's got 14 shot attempts and two goals. A good player's going to find the net if they get that many chances, so try to eliminate the shot attempts and try to keep the puck out of his hands.”

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