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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