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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Bruins

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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Bruins

The Capitals (28-7-3, 59 points) are in Boston tonight to face the Bruins (20-13-4, 44 points) at TD Garden. Here are our AAA Keys to the Game:

With or without you:  Alex Ovechkin has been pretty consistent this season, whether he’s been riding shotgun with center Evgeny Kuznetsov or Nicklas Backstrom. In his first 15 games with Kuznetsov, Ovechkin had 8 goals and 8 assists for 16 points. In his last 22 games with Backstrom, Ovechkin has 13 goals and 5 assists for 18 points. Ovechkin sits three goals off the league-leading pace set by Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn.

Between the pipes: Braden Holtby (24-4-2, 1.92 GAA, .932 SP) will get the call for the Caps, while Tuukka Rask (14-10-3, 2.51 GAA, .914 SP) will go for the B’s. Holtby burst onto the NHL against the Bruins in the 2012 playoffs, defeating the defending Stanley Cup champs in seven games. In his career, Holtby is 8-2-0 with three shutouts, a 1.52 GAA and .954 SP. In 11 career games against the Caps, Rask is 1-7-3 with a 3.01 GAA and .896 SP and one shutout.

Where they stand: The Caps are atop the Metro Division and Eastern Conference, but are 0-1-1 in their last two games. The Bruins hold the final playoff spot in the East with 44 points, tied with Ottawa, which is in ninth place. The Bruins have lost four of their last five and have been outscored 16-5 in those four losses.

Galiev in, Latta out: Caps coach Barry Trotz is expected to shake up his fourth line by replacing right wing Michael Latta with Stan Galiev. Galiev has not played since Dec. 14 and has two assists in seven games this season.

“He's practiced really well," Trotz told reporters in Boston. "He deserves to be in. He gives us a lot more speed at the forward position. I think that's an area where we can be a pretty quick team and push the pace in the game." 

Is it possible the Caps might be showcasing Galiev for a potential trade?

Just the facts: The Caps have outscored their opponents 46-30 in third periods this season but are coming off their first loss when leading after two periods (19-0-1). The Bruins have outscored opponents 39-37 in the third period and are 13-2-1 when leading after two.

Leaders: Evgeny Kuznetsov (34 points) has a one-point lead over Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom for the team lead. Backstrom and Kuznetsov lead the club with 23 assists. Patrice Bergeron leads the Breuins with 35 points, while Brad Marchand leads them with 15 goals, one more than Bergeron and Loui Eriksson.

Top PP units: The NHL’s top two power-play units collide tonight. Led by Bergeron (7), Eriksson (7) and Ryan Spooner (5) the Bruins are No. 1 with a success rate of 28.6 percent. The Caps are next at 25.6 percent, paced by Ovechkin (7) and Oshie (5).

Ovi on Chara: Asked if 6-foot-9, 250-pound defenseman Zdeno Chara is still tough to face at age 38, Ovechkin, 30, quipped: “Even when he’s 50 years old he’s going to be hard to play against.”

Chasing 3,000: The Bruins currently have a lifetime record of 2,999-2,280-791-139 in 6,208 regular season games. With their next win, they will become just the second team in NHL history with 3,000 regular season victories (Montreal, 3,282).

Right at home: The Capitals are 13-4-2 on the road this season, ranking first in the NHL in point percentage (.737) and tied for first in road wins (13) and road points (28). The Caps have earned a point in 11 of their last 13 road games (9-2-2).

RELATED: Are the Caps interested in Dustin Byfuglien?

CAPITALS

Forwards

Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie

Andre Burakovsky – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Justin Williams

Jason Chimera – Marcus Johansson – Tom Wilson

Brooks Laich – Zach Sill – Stanislav Galiev

Defense pairings

Matt Niskanen – Karl Alzner

Dmitry Orlov – Nate Schmidt

Aaron Ness – Taylor Chorney

Goaltenders

Braden Holtby (starter) - Philipp Grubauer

Injured: Brooks Orpik (lower body), John Carlson (lower body), Jay Beagle (upper body)

Scratched: Michael LattaRyan Stanton

BRUINS

Forward lines

Loui Eriksson – Patrice Bergeron – Brett Connolly

Matt Beleskey – Ryan Spooner – Landon Ferraro

Frank Vatrano – Joonas Kemppainen – Jimmy Hayes

Zac Rinaldo – Max Talbot – Tyler Randell

Defense pairings

Zdeno Chara – Zach Trotman

Dennis Seidenberg – Colin Miller

Torey Krug – Adam McQuaid

Goaltenders

Tuukka Rask (starter) - Jonas Gustavsson

Injured: David Krejci (upper body), Chris Kelly (broken femur)

Scratched: Kevan MillerJoe Morrow

MORE CAPITALS: Alzner on losing two in a row: 'We hate it'

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Who will the Caps' backup goalie be next season?

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USA TODAY Sports

Who will the Caps' backup goalie be next season?

Very few teams have the luxury of having a backup goalie they can rely on for an extended period of time while the starter goes through a massive slump. The Capitals had that luxury in 2017-2018 thanks to Philipp Grubauer.

Not every team in the NHL has a dependable starter, let alone backup, so when a backup goalie goes 15-10-3 in a season with a 2.35 GAA and .923 save percentage, that is likely to catch the attention of general managers around the league.

The 2018-19 season will likely be a season of transition for the Capitals behind Braden Holtby. General manager Brian MacLellan expressed his willingness Wednesday to possibly trade backup goalie Philipp Grubauer this offseason. With the season he just had, he could potentially yield the Caps a solid return.

But, if Grubauer is indeed moved, that leaves the question of who will play backup for the Capitals this season?

The initial plan appears to be to promote Pheonix Copley from the AHL.

“Yeah, I think he's capable of it,” MacLellan said when asked if he saw Copley as an NHL backup. “Obviously, he's unproven. I think he's done what he could do at the American League level. Got through probably a little bit of a tough patch this year recovering from an injury, but I think he has potential to be that guy, yes.”

Copley, 26, played last season with the Caps’ AHL affiliate Hershey Bears. He had a tough season with a 2.91 GAA and .896 save percentage in 41 games.

As MacLellan alluded, Copley suffered a serious injury at the end of the previous season and it clearly affected his season. The year prior, Copley managed a 2.15 GAA and .931 with Hershey in 16 games. He was considered Washington’s No. 3 goalie this season and was recalled for the playoffs as an emergency backup behind Grubauer.

Copley’s career includes only two NHL games.

There is another internal candidate who some fans may be hoping to see next season. That of course, is 2015 first-round draft pick Ilya Samsonov.

Samsonov, 21, signed an entry-level contract with Washington in May and will make the jump from the KHL to North America next season.

But don’t expect to see Samsonov backing up Holtby to start the NHL season.

Samsonov will be adjusting to the North American game and the smaller North American rink. Because of that, MacLellan believes he will benefit from time in the AHL before making the jump to the NHL.

"I think he needs time in Hershey,” MacLellan said. “We'll start him in Hershey I would anticipate and see how he grows, see how he gets accustomed to the small rink and hopefully get some good coaching, get our guys in that work with him. It'll be up to him. I think he'll adapt fairly quickly given his skill set.”

MORE CAPITALS COVERAGE:

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Devante Smith-Pelly is hopeful he has found a home with the Capitals

Devante Smith-Pelly is hopeful he has found a home with the Capitals

“I didn't think I'd be here a year ago,” Devante Smith-Pelly told the media Wednesday. “That's for sure.”

In 2017, Devante Smith-Pelly was a member of the New Jersey Devils and thought that’s where he would play the 2017-18 season. Instead, Smith-Pelly was bought out of the final year of his contract, something that he was not prepared for as he only received word of the team’s decision on the same day they made the move.

New Jersey’s loss turned out to be Washington’s gain as the Caps signed Smith-Pelly for one year and he proceeded to score seven goals during the Capitals’ postseason run to the Stanley Cup.

“Obviously, at the start of the year, not knowing exactly where I would be to at the parade on Constitution, it's crazy," Smith-Pelly said. "I haven't really sat down and taken it all in, but I wouldn't trade it for the world. I had an amazing time this year. Obviously, it's the best year of my life.”

Now as a restricted free agent, Smith-Pelly is hoping he has found a home in Washington.

Despite being only 26-years-old, Smith-Pelly has already had somewhat of a journeyman’s career. The Caps are the fifth team in which he has played for.

The issue for much of Smith-Pelly's career has been consistency.

The 2018 playoffs was not his first breakout performance. He scored five goals in just 12 playoff games for the Anaheim Ducks in 2014, but he failed to live up to that level of production again until this year’s postseason with Washington.

“I don't think I needed to prove anything,” Smith-Pelly said. “I knew what I could do, it's just me getting a chance to do it and that's it. I got a chance here and I guess it worked out.”

Expecting him to score seven goals every 24 games in the regular season is likely unrealistic, but the Caps don’t need him to do that. Smith-Pelly developed a role with the Caps being a bottom-six player, a role that he thrived in throughout the season.

“He's become a big part of the team,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “He brings good energy, he's a good teammate, he's well-liked. You could tell the teammates really migrate towards him, they like him and then the crowd also likes him. They're chanting 'DSP' all the time so it's been fun to watch how he's got everybody to embrace him and his personality.”

Given when Smith-Pelly was able to do in the postseason, it is no surprise that the Caps would be interested in keeping him around. But at what cost?

Smith-Pelly was a bargain for Washington last season with a cap hit of only $650,000. He will be due a raise, but with John Carlson expected to get a monster contract, how much will general manager Brian MacLellan be willing to spend on a bottom-six winger like Smith-Pelly?

Despite the phenomenal postseason, Smith-Pelly had only seven goals and 16 points in the entire regular season. When it comes to a new contract, MacLellan will likely want to pay for that player while Smith-Pelly will no doubt look to be paid like the player who scored seven times in 24 playoff games.

As of Wednesday when he spoke with reporters, Smith-Pelly said he had not yet had any talks with the team about a new contract, but also noted that, as a restricted free agent, “there’s no real rush.”

The Caps own Smith-Pelly’s rights which helps their bargaining position. Smith-Pelly, however, is arbitration eligible and his postseason stats will undoubtedly bump his value when viewed by a neutral arbitrator.

But there's a good chance it may not get anywhere close to that point.

“On the ice and off the ice I feel like this is the best situation I've been in,” Smith-Pelly said. “Obviously, never know what's going to happen but I found a place and I want to be back.”

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