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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Kings


AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Kings

The Capitals (40-10-4, 84 points) take on the Los Angeles Kings (33-19-3, 69 points) tonight at Verizon Center (6:30 p.m. pregame, CSN). Here are our AAA Keys to the Game:

Who’s in goal for the Caps: The Caps are expected to go with backup Philipp Grubauer (5-4-1, 2.24 GAA, .919 SP), who will give Braden Holtby a rest after Holtby played in six straight games. Grubauer last played on Feb. 2, a 5-2 loss to the Florida Panthers. His last win came back on Jan. 10. Grubauer has never faced the Kings.

Who’s in goal for the Kings: Jonathan Quick was the first goalie off the ice after the morning skate, but coach Darryl Sutter would not confirm Quick will be starting for the first time since suffering a lower body injury on Feb. 9. Quick is 28-14-4 with a 2.23 GAA, .918 SP and two shutouts. In six career games against the Caps he’s 5-1-0 with a 2.44 GAA and .915 SP.

Call him ‘Stick:’ Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said Justin Williams probably got the nickname “Stick” because he’s “pretty skinny,” but the “Mr. Game 7” nickname came from outside the Kings’ locker room. Tyler Toffoli said he’s never called Williams  “Mr. Game 7,” but might tonight. “I know he hated it," Toffoli said. “So maybe I'll say it to him on the ice.”

Demanding Sutter: Mike Richards was asked what makes Darryl Sutter a successful hockey coach and his answer was interesting.

“He doesn’t let things slide,” Richards said. “You can win 10 in a row and he’d still be on you. He demands the best from his players.”

Orpik in, Chorney out: Brooks Orpik’s three months on long-term injury finally ends tonight when he plays for the first time since suffering a lower body injury on a blocked shot on Nov. 10. The Caps were 10-4-0 when Orpik was in the lineup and have gone 30-6-4 with him.

“He’s very, very tough to play against,” said Kings center Vincent Lecavalier, who has five goals and four assists in 23 games with the Kings after arriving from Philadelphia. “He’s obviously a big boy and he plays hard. I played against him in the playoffs against Pittsburgh and he adds depth to that skilled defense.”

Lecavalier, 35, has played 84 career games against the Capitals and has 35 goals and 36 assists for 71 points.

Look for Orpik to play alongside Dmitry Orlov and Taylor Chorney to be a healthy scratch for the first time since Nov. 10.

Drought continues: Brooks Laich has one goal in 53 games this season and has not scored in his last 41 contests, dating back to his game-winner Nov. 5 in Boston. He is also a team-worst minus-8. Mike Richards (minus-1) is the only other minus player on the Caps’ roster.

Where they stand: The Caps rank first in the NHL in goals for per game (3.30) and second in the league in goals allowed per game (2.30). The Kings rank ninth in goals for per game (2.75) and sixth in goals allowed per game (2.35).

Special teams: The Caps rank first on the power play (24.4 percent) and fifth on the penalty kill (83.7 percent). The Kings rank second on the power play (23.1 percent) and 10th on the kill (81.6 percent).

By the numbers: The Caps have a goal differential of plus-7 in the first period, plus-22 in the second period and plus-25 in the third period. By comparison, the Kings are plus-2 in the first, plus-8 in the second and plus-5 in the third. That might explain why they are 31-0-1 when leading after two periods. The Caps are also 58-1-4 when leading with 10 minutes remaining in regulation under Barry Trotz.

[RELATED: Orpik to make his return to the lineup Tuesday against Kings]

Here are projected lineups for both teams:


Forward lines

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie  

Andre Burakovsky - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Justin Williams  

Jason Chimera - Marcus Johansson - Tom Wilson  

Brooks Laich - Mike Richards - Michael Latta  

Defensive pairs

Matt Niskanen - Karl Alzner  

Nate Schmidt - John Carlson  

Brooks Orpik - Dmitry Orlov 


Philipp Grubauer (starter) - Braden Holtby  

Injured: Jay Beagle (upper body) 

Scratched: Stan Galiev  


Forward lines

Milan Lucic - Anze Kopitar - Dustin Brown   

Dwight King - Jeff Carter - Tyler Toffoli   

Tanner Pearson - Vincent Lecavalier - Trevor Lewis   

Nick Shore - Andy Andreoff - Jordan Nolan  

Defense pairs

Brayden McNabb - Drew Doughty   

Jake Muzzin - Alec Martinez   

Kevin Gravel - Luke Schenn   


Jonathan Quick (projected starter) -  Jhonas Enroth   

Injured: Matt Greene (upper body), Marian Gaborik (lower body) 

Scratched: Kyle CliffordJamie McBainPeter Budaj   

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The Caps are a bad faceoff team, here’s what they’re doing about it

USA Today Sports

The Caps are a bad faceoff team, here’s what they’re doing about it

Tuesday’s practice was a lot like every other for the Caps until the end. After working on the power play, the team gathered at one end of the ice and began working on faceoffs. It was not just the centers, but wingers and defensemen alike got into the action with every win celebrated by loud cheers from teammates.

It should could as no surprise to see faceoffs as a point of emphasis for Washington considering just how much the team has struggled with them in the early season. The Caps rank 30th in the league in faceoff win percentage at only 43.8-percent.

“Yeah, there's little details that can help our game,” Lars Eller told reporters after practice. “The more you have the puck, easier the game is gonna be for you. We have a little more time in between games than usual during the season here, so we have the time to work on something like that, which can be little things that makes the difference.”

The team as a whole watched video on faceoffs prior to practice and then worked as a five-man unit during the drill. The main point of emphasis head coach Todd Reirden wanted to drill into his players was that faceoffs are not simply the responsibility of the centers alone.

“The days of it just being center vs. center and a clean draw being won back are a rarity now so it's important to have all five guys helping, something we watched video on earlier today,” Reirden said.

“You ask any centerman if they have a good group of wingers that can help them out on draws, that makes a huge difference,” Nic Dowd said. “I've been lucky, I have [Devante Smith-Pelly] on my right and I'm a righty so I win all my draws my backhand side so a lot of pucks go his way and he wins a lot of draws for me. That's huge. You have a guy that's sitting over there that's sleeping, you could go easily from five wins to five losses and then that's your night. It makes a big difference.”

Faceoffs were always going to be more of a struggle for the Caps this season with the departure of Jay Beagle who was, by far, the team’s best faceoff man for several years. Whenever the team needed a big draw, Beagle was the player relied upon to win it. With him gone, it is no surprise to see the team struggle.

But the Caps don’t like the idea of keeping possession off a draw just 43.8-percent of the time.

“It's essentially like the ref is creating a 50-50 puck and you snap it back, you get possession, now you're forechecking and it makes a huge difference,” Dowd said. “You play against those top lines, they want to be in the O-zone. Well, if you lose the draw, now you're playing D-zone, you win the draw now you're playing O-zone. So effectively, you've shut down their shift.”

There is a school of thought suggesting that perhaps the importance of winning faceoffs is overrated and a team’s faceoff win percentage is not overly important. Eller himself admitted as much to reporters.

What no one can argue, however, is that while some faceoffs may not matter all that much, there are some that are hugely important in a game. The Caps recognize that. For them, being a strong faceoff team is not necessarily about improving the team’s win percentage, but more about being able to win those critical draws.

“It's something that for the most part the players understand and a neutral zone faceoff with 14 minutes to go in the first period is not nearly as important as one that's 5-on-6 at the end of the game,” Reirden said. “We all know that. It's important to put the right people on those situations and give them the best chance to have success.”

“A center ice draw, I could see where guys could make the argument, well you lose it you still will play hockey and stuff could still happen,” Dowd said. “But I think the game is such a possession game now that any opportunity you can win a 50-50 puck whether that's a faceoff or a board battle, it makes a huge difference.”




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The case for 'Making Hockey Fun Again,' and the Capitals’ place in it

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The case for 'Making Hockey Fun Again,' and the Capitals’ place in it

Like it or not, the NHL is becoming younger, louder, and more personable. And as its young stars begin to gain leadership positions, the demand from a younger subset of fans grows larger: Make hockey fun again. Let players have personality on the ice and off, be it through social media engagement, game-day fashion, or creative goal celebrations.

Some say that hockey was always fun. True, to an extent. 

Minute per game minute, you arguably can’t find a faster, more action-packed major sport. But among the North American leagues, and internationally, the NBA still dominates on Twitter activity and in its social media. 

One of the biggest factors that helped basketball succeed in the social age wasn’t the NHL’s commonly preached conformity.

The NBA found huge success in marketing its star players as larger-than-life, letting them have public personas that tied into larger, richer narratives spanning careers, teams, and decades.

Superstar Auston Matthews, the up-and-coming 21-year-old face of American hockey, has taken note, citing NBA star Russell Westbrook’s individuality as a source of inspiration in a recent GQ feature

He’s well met by former USA National Team Development Program teammates Jack Eichel, who was recently named captain of the Buffalo Sabres; Dylan Larkin, Detroit’s hometown darling who’s stepping up as an assistant captain for the Red Wings; and Matthew Tkachuk, who’s also wearing an A in Calgary.

It’s not only the born and bred American youngsters who are ready to stand out. The team responsible for the resurgence of the debate about how much fun is too much is none other than the Washington Capitals, whose summer celebrations led to the ban of the legendary Cup Stand.

Though the publicity of their championship celebrations was revolutionary, the Capitals hold more promise in amount of fun per sixty. After a title win, their petty grudges are only transforming into a bold sense of self-confidence.

Alex Ovechkin is already a superstar on a mission to grab the attention of all the boys and girls and babes in the hockey world. Evgeny Kuznetsov’s interviews and celebrations reveal a player growing into the spotlight, ready to embrace a downright devious kind of skill against his opponents. Braden Holtby is already a league-recognized style icon whose meticulously chosen plaid suits and well-groomed beard have woven into the hype of game-day coverage. And Nicklas Backstrom is finally smiling on-camera.

(This isn’t even mentioning highly polarizing figure Tom Wilson, whose aggressive approach on the ice has earned him the marking of a player everyone hates unless he’s on their team.)

If the NHL wants to appeal to new viewers, it can gain ground by marketing its stars outside of a bland, monotone mold for success. 

With high-scoring, chaotically delightful games that happen almost every night all across the continent, an audience needs something to anchor them.

Individuality isn’t a bad place to start.