The Capitals (35-9-4, 74 points) will face the New York Islanders (26-16-6, 58 points) tonight (7:30, NBCSN) in their second of four meetings this season. Here are our AAA Keys to the Game:
Welcome back, Ovi: After a one-game slap on the wrist for missing the NHL All-Star festivities in Nashville, Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin will return to action for the Caps.
Ovechkin has not played since last Wednesday night and was full of energy in four straight days on the ice from Monday through Thursday. Ovechkin is tied for second in the NHL with 28 goals, two behind Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane, who has played in eight more games. In 38 career games against the Isles Ovechkin has 27 goals and 15 assists for 42 points.
In the last five games Ovechkin has missed the Capitals are 0-5 and have scored four goals.
Welcome back, Braden: Caps goalie Braden Holtby (30-5-3, 2.07 GAA, .929 SP) will make his first start since Wednesday and is expected to face former Caps teammate Jaroslav Halak (12-9-4, 2.14, .923).
Holtby has a career record of 8-1-2 against the Isles with a 2.11 GAA and .936 save percentage. Halak tortured the Caps and their fans in the first round of the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs when he was with the Montreal Canadiens, but in 11 regular season matchups against the Caps he’s 6-5-0 with a 2.70 GAA and .899 SP.
Hard hitters: The last time the Caps and Isles met on Jan. 7 in Brooklyn, Marcus Johansson got himself suspended two games for an open-ice hit on Thomas Hickey, who remained in the game and admitted afterwards he probably put himself in a vulnerable position by keeping his head down.
Caps right wing Tom Wilson, who became Public Enemy No. 1 on Long Island when he knocked defenseman Lubomir Visnovski out of the NHL with a big hit in last year’s playoff series against the Islanders, said the Isles would have been more upset if it was him who lowered the boom on Hickey.
“If I would have made the same hit I’m sure there’d be a lot of guys coming after me tonight,” Wilson said.
Fighting words: The Islanders lead all NHL teams with 1,493 hits, led by Matt Martin’s league-high 230 and Cal Clutterbuck’s 195. The Caps rank 18th in the NHL with 1,139 hits (down from ninth last season), led by Wilson’s 144. You can expect those numbers to go up after tonight.
“They don’t like us, we don’t like them,” Wilson said. “I’m not planning on changing that anytime soon. I think it would be a bad thing if we did.”
Chorney watch: Taylor Chorney (flu) is expected to take part in the pre-game warmup and will play if he feels well enough. If not, look for former Islanders defenseman Aaron Ness to take his place. If Chorney plays, Ness will be sent back to Hershey. If Chorney cannot play Ness will be considered an emergency callup and his time with the Caps will not count toward him becoming waiver eligible after 10 games or 30 days. (He’s currently at eight games).
Last we met: The Caps received goals from Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, Jason Chimera and Nate Schmidt en route to a 4-1 win over the Islanders in their first visit to Brooklyn on Jan. 7. Backstrom also picked up an assist and was a plus-3 in that game.
Remember me?: Former Caps center Mikhail Grabovski is having a solid season with the Isles with eight goals, 15 assists and a plus-3 rating. But the player who gives Braden Holtby more fits than anyone is Islanders captain John Tavares, who shares the team lead with 36 points (17 goals, 19 assists) in 45 games. Kyle Okposo also has 36 points (12 goals, 24 assists) but is a minus-9.
Here are the projected lineups for tonight:
Dmitry Orlov- Taylor Chorney
Braden Holtby (starter) - Philipp Grubauer
Scratched: Stanislav Galiev, Aaron Ness
Jaroslav Halak (starter) - Jean-Francois Berube - Thomas Greiss
Injured: Johnny Boychuk (upper body)
Scratched: Steve Bernier, Scott Mayfield
MORE CAPITALS: Holtby gearing up for heavy workload