The Capitals (22-6-2, 46 points) will take on the Tampa Bay Lightning (16-13-3, 35 points) tonight at Verizon Center (6:30 p.m. pregame, CSN). Here are our AAA Keys to the Game:
Free Willy: Caps right wing Tom Wilson will be in the lineup tonight after his match penalty for blindsiding Ottawa Senators forward Curtis Lazar was rescinded by the NHL earlier on Friday.
“The league always does what’s right,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “They looked at it and said that was a little bit of a mis-call. We talked to Tom. The one thing about Tom is he’s going to be a physical player, that’s his DNA. That’s what makes him very effective.
“Twenty-nine other teams would love to have Tom Wilson. They’ll complain about Tom Wilson but they’d love to have him. I know he can get frustrated because sometimes he feels like he’s being targeted, but he can’t change his game.
“He has to understand that player safety comes first and sometimes they overreact on player safety. You have to keep your head about yourself and recognize the situation and he does. He’s a bright young man and I don’t think it’s going to affect him at all. I think he was more worried I’d lose trust in him late in games and I said, ‘No, I have total trust in your game. Don’t change it. Just make sure that you’re within the rules and understand that player safety is paramount.’”
Down goes Brown: Right wing was place on waivers by the Capitals on Friday. If he clears he will be assigned to the AHL Hershey Bears.
“He needs to play,” Trotz said. “He’s played in one game and it’s Christmastime already. He got hurt in training camp. There was no guarantee he was going to be with our hockey club to start. From our standpoint he just needs to get playing.”
Trotz said the Caps will keep Stan Galiev as their only extra forward, and Connor Carrick as their extra defenseman.
No morning skate: With back-to-back games in New York and Carolina Sunday and Monday nights, Trotz canceled the team’s morning skate on Friday and will practice Saturday at Kettler.
“We’re in a seven in 11 nights (actually, 7 in 12 nights) and we’re not going to skate in New York,” Trotz said, “so I want to see it as a litmus test to see how we react. We’ve had enough morning skates already. We’ve just gotta play the games and get to Christmas.”
The Caps will have four days off following Monday night’s game in Raleigh.
Orpik update: Trotz said not much has changed with defenseman Brooks Orpik and his lower body injury. Orpik has missed 16 of the Caps’ first 30 games and has not played since Nov. 10.
“He’s working out every day,” Trotz said. “He’s not skating. It’s just rest and therapy. I don’t have a time frame. Only Brooks will be able to give us a time frame when he starts to feel he can push it more and we’ll go from there.”
Praise for Kucherov: Tampa right wing Nikita Kucherov has made a fan out of Trotz. Through 32 games the 22-year-old Russian leads the Bolts in goals (12) and is second behind Steven Stamkos in points (20).
“Every time we play the Lightning I come away from that game going, ‘That guy’s a top-end player.’ He’s a dynamic player. He’s definitely a top six forward for sure and he’s dangerous. When he’s on the ice something happens and you have an appreciation for those type of guys.
“He’s got some bite to him. He doesn’t back off if you come at him physically. I’ve got a lot of admiration for him. I think he’s a hell of a player. He’s got tremendous instincts and skill and he can really rip the puck, too. He shoots darts.”
Here are the projected lineups for both teams:
Injured: Brooks Orpik (lower body)