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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Devils

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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Devils

The Capitals (52-15-5, 109 points) will visit the New Jersey Devils (36-31-7, 79 points) tonight at Prudential Center (6:30 p.m., CSN, Pregame Live). Here are our AAA Keys to the Game:

Who’s in goal: Braden Holtby (44-9-4, 2.25 GAA, .921 SP) will make his 60th appearance of the season tonight. He is four wins away from tying Marty Brodeur’s NHL record of 48 victories. The Devils will go with Scott Wedgewood (2-0-0, 0.50, .985), who pitched a 39-save, 3-0 shutout against the Penguins Thursday night.

Where the Caps stand: The Caps can move one step closer to clinching the Presidents’ Trophy with a win tonight. A win by the Caps and a loss on Saturday by the Dallas Stars would clinch the top seed in the playoffs for the Caps.

Where the Devils stand: The Devils are six points out of a playoff spot with eight games to play. New Jersey has won two in a row and five of seven (5-2-0).

Carlson returns: Defenseman John Carlson will return to the Caps lineup for the first time since aggravating a lower body injury on Feb. 24 against Montreal. He’s expected to be paired with Nate Schmidt, leaving a third pairing of Brooks Orpik and Dmitry Orlov.

Oshie out: T.J. Oshie will miss his first game as a Capital with what coach Barry Trotz described as a flu bug.  Oshie did not practice on Thursday and is hoping to be back in the lineup when the Caps face his former team, the St. Louis Blues, Saturday night at Verizon Center. With Oshie out, Stan Galiev will play right wing on a fourth line with center Mike Richards and left wing Daniel Winnik.

Caps vs. Devils: The Caps have won all three meetings this season and are looking for their first-ever season sweep of the Devils. The Caps have won six in a row against New Jersey. Oddly enough, in the Caps’ three wins over the Devils this season Brooks Orpik is a plus-5, while Karl Alzner is a minus-4.

RELATED: Friday 6-pack: When can Caps clinch Presidents' Trophy?

500 for Alzner: Karl Alzner will be playing in his 500th NHL game and his 448th game in a row. “Most players have two goals: the Cup and one thousand games. I’m happy to be halfway there, but I feel like I’ve been playing forever and I’m only at 500. It’s crazy to think a guy like ‘Stick’ is almost at a thousand.” ‘Stick’ is Justin Williams, who will be playing in his  991st NHL game. If Williams plays in each of the Capitals’ final 10 games, he’ll reach 1,000 in the season finale on April 10. (So you can bet he won’t be rested down the stretch).

Dynamic duo: Braden Holtby (44 wins) and Alex Ovechkin (43 goals) are the eighth set of teammates who have recorded 43 wins and 43 goals in the same season. The last were Sharks teammates Evgeny Nabokov (44 wins) and Patrick Marleau (44 goals).

Road warriors: The Caps can set a franchise record with a road win tonight. Their 24 road wins are tied with the 2009-10 Capitals.

CAPITALS
Forward lines

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Justin Williams
Marcus Johansson - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Andre Burakovsky
Jason Chimera - Jay Beagle - Tom Wilson
Stanislav Galiev - Mike Richards - Daniel Winnik

Defense pairings

Karl Alzner - Matt Niskanen
Dmitry Orlov - Brooks Orpik
Nate Schmidt - John Carlson

Goaltenders

Braden Holtby (starter) - Philipp Grubauer

Injured: T.J. Oshie (flu)
Scratched: Michael LattaMike WeberTaylor Chorney

DEVILS
Forward lines

Joseph Blandisi - Adam Henrique - Devante Smith-Pelly
Reid Boucher - Travis Zajac - Kyle Palmieri
Sergey Kalinin - Blake Pietila - Mike Sislo
Bobby Farnham - Stephen Gionta - Tuomo Ruutu

Defense pairings

Andy Greene - Adam Larsson
John Moore - Damon Severson
David Warsofsky - Vojtech Mozik

Goaltenders

Scott Wedgewood (starter) - Keith Kinkaid

Scratched: Seth Helgeson
Injured: Cory Schneider (right knee), Jon Merrill (upper body), David Schlemko (upper body), Tyler Kennedy (lower body), Jacob Josefson (hand), Jordin Tootoo (upper body), Patrik Elias (right knee), Mike Cammalleri (right hand/wrist), Jiri Tlusty (right wrist).

MORE CAPITALS: Prospect Report: Hershey drops to second in their division

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3 reasons the Washington Capitals beat the Vancouver Canucks

3 reasons the Washington Capitals beat the Vancouver Canucks

The Capitals got their Canadian road trip off to a good start with a 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks. The stars came to play as Alex Ovechkin scored twice and added two assists while both John Carlson and Nicklas Backstrom recorded three point nights to lead Washington.

Here are three reasons why they won the game.

John Carlson

Carlson was easily the best player on the ice for either team. He has shown tremendous offensive instincts this season and that was on display in the first period when he snuck behind the defense to receive a pass from Jakub Vrana and chipped the puck past goalie Anders Nilsson. You don’t usually see a defenseman as the first player in on an offensive play, but Carlson saw a lane and he took it to put Washington up 1-0.

The Caps’ blue liner also added two assists on the power play. This was Carlson’s fifth multi-point game and it is only the Caps’ eighth game of the season.

You can read more on Carlson’s big night here.

Evgeny Kuznetsov from the office

The Caps scored a power play goal in the second period from the office, but the shot came from the right faceoff circle, not from Ovechkin’s spot on the left.

So much of Washington’s power play is built around setting up Ovechkin on the left and that gives players like Kuznetsov a lot more room than they normally would have.

Ovechkin had the puck at the top of his office, but the Canucks had his shooting lane covered. Instead of shooting, Ovechkin fed it back to Carlson at the point. The penalty killers did not want to get drawn away from Ovechkin and just leave him over for the return pass, but that left Kuznetsov wide open in the opposite faceoff circle. Carlson fed him the puck and he did his best Ovechkin impression with the one-time goal.

Kuznetsov now has five goals on the season and all five have come on the power play.

A broken stick

Trying to slow down the NHL’s top power play is hard enough. When one penalty killer loses a stick, however, it becomes that much more difficult

Already up 3-2, the Caps got a third period power play after Troy Stecher was caught for tripping Dmitrij Jaskin. While on the power play, a shot by Carlson broke the stick of Markus Granlund.

You may not realize just how small a player becomes when he loses his stick. Most importantly for a power play, it means the penalty killer cannot stay in front of the puck to block a shot while also covering a passing lane with his stick. With no stick for Granlund, that gave Ovechkin and Carlson plenty of room to exchange passes. Carlson only had to wait for Ovechkin to get into position before setting him up for the one-timer from the office.

Ovechkin’s second goal of the night extended the Caps’ lead to two and shut the door on any possible Canucks comeback.

MORE CAPITALS NEWS:

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It's early, but John Carlson is easily living up to his new contract

It's early, but John Carlson is easily living up to his new contract

Whenever a player has a career year in the last year of his contract, there is always some trepidation the next season. Was he really worth all those years or all that money that come with his new deal or did he just cash in on one great season?

John Carlson got the big contract and now is silencing all the doubters with his outstanding play.

Carlson scored his fifth goal of the season Monday as he chipped in a great feed from Jakub Vrana past Vancouver Canucks goalie Anders Nilsson (see above).

He later assisted on two more goals in the contest, giving him his fifth multi-point game of the year.

On the final year of his deal in 2017-18, Carlson was brilliant with 15 goals, 53 assists and 68 points, all of which were career highs.

It’s rare to see a bonafide No. 1 defenseman hit the open market, meaning there would have been plenty of teams lining up to pay him the big bucks. The Caps never let it get that far and they re-signed Carlson to an eight-year deal worth $64 million before free agency opened. His $8 million cap hit ties him for second among all defensemen.

That’s a whole lot of money to spend on a player whose previous career high was 55 points. Carlson would not have been the first player to regress in the first year after signing a big deal and he certainly would not be the last.

For now, however, he looks like he is worth every penny.

Carlson’s 68 points last season led all defensemen and he looks like he’s on pace to shatter those numbers. His goal Monday was his 11th point on the season. It took him 15 goals to reach that mark last season and 43 games to reach five goals.

Despite a career year, Carlson was not invited to the All-Star Game, he was not a finalist for the Norris Trophy and he was not named a first or second-team All-Star at season’s end. At his current rate of play, however, he will be impossible to ignore. 

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