The Capitals (20-4-5) continue their four-game road trip with a game against the Los Angeles Kings (11-15-2). Catch all the action on NBC Sports Washington with Caps Pregame Live starting at 9:30 p.m. Puck drop is at 10 p.m. tonight. Then hang with NBC Sports Washington after the game for Caps Postgame Live.
Here’s what you need to know for Wednesday’s game:
The Capitals are on fire – again
Washington has won four in a row, including the first two of this four-game road trip with 5-2 victories in Detroit and San Jose. They are pulling away from the rest of the Metropolitan Division at 45 points. That gives the Capitals a seven-point lead now on the Islanders, eight on the Flyers, 12 on the Hurricanes and 13 on the Penguins. It’s still early with 53 games to go, but they’ve at least put themselves in good position to win a fifth consecutive division title.
...The Kings are not
An NHL dynasty earlier this decade, hard times have hit in Los Angeles. The Kings had the worst record in the Western Conference last season and have the lowest point total (24) this season, too. They’ve tread water recently with a 3-4-1 record in their past seven games and they did beat the Islanders 4-1 at Staples Center on Nov. 27. They are also the more rested team with an off day on Tuesday while the Capitals were up the coast in San Jose. But Los Angeles is on pace to miss the Stanley Cup playoffs for the fourth time in six years.
Caps coach Todd Reirdan won’t talk to the media until 7:45 p.m. EST tonight and there’s no morning skate so we won’t know if center Nicklas Backstrom will play after missing six games with an upper body injury. There’s no need to rush him back into the lineup. Backstrom himself told reporters in San Jose that the team is taking it slow. He has four goals and 14 assists in 23 games.
Another question for Reirden after defenseman Radko Gudas took the butt end of a stick from San Jose forward Evander Kane, who was hit with a major penalty, ejected and earned the maximum fine. Gudas looked wobbly on the ice and didn’t return for the final five minutes. But a source told our Rob Carlin that all defensemen were at practice for AHL Hershey on Wednesday morning. So it doesn’t appear anyone flew out to California last minute just in case.
That’s either good news for Gudas or the Capitals have some other plan to get through the Kings game. They are not carrying an extra defenseman. If Gudas couldn’t go they would either rotate five or use a forward back there.
Could be the difference tonight. The Capitals have the NHL’s fifth-best power play (24.7%) and the Kings rank 29th(11.6%). Washington is 12thon the penalty kill (83%). Los Angeles is 28th(74.7%). Caps did a good job not taking any penalties against the Sharks on Tuesday.
Probable lines and defensive pairs
Again, no morning skate so let’s go with what was in place Tuesday at San Jose.
Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana – Lars Eller – T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin – Travis Boyd – Richard Panik
Brendan Leipsic – Nic Dowd – Garnet Hathaway
Michal Kempny – John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov – Nick Jensen
Jonas Siegenthaler – Radko Gudas
Backup goalie Ilya Samsonov starts in place of Braden Holtby on the back-to-back.
If Backstrom does return that’s a pretty easy fix. Plug him in on the second line, as usual, between Vrana and Oshie. Eller drops to the third line with Hagelin and Panik (been a while since we’ve seen that group together) and Travis Boyd is the hard-luck scratch. He’s been playing well. A Backstrom return would mean the full complement of forwards is in place for the first time since mid-October. But if he can’t go, the Caps looked pretty good last night so the status quo works, too.
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