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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Penguins

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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Penguins

PITTSBURGH -- The Capitals (20-6-2, 42 points) conclude a three-game road trip tonight in Pittsburgh when they take on the Penguins (15-10-3, 33 points) at Consol Energy Center (6:30 p.m. pregame, CSN). Here are our AAA Keys to the Game:

How the Caps got here: The Caps are 8-1-1 in their last nine games to climb into first place in the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of the New York Islanders, who are 8-0-2 in their last 10. The Caps split the first two games of their three-game road trip, losing 4-1 in Sunrise and winning 2-1 in Tampa, but no one in the locker room is thrilled with how they’re playing.

“Sometimes you just don’t have that jump in your legs,” said Ovechkin, who scored the lone goal against the Panthers. “We have to find a way to play our game and get success.”

How the Pens got here: The Penguins fired coach Mike Johnston on Saturday after going 2-2-3 in their last seven games. Despite the arrival of Phil Kessel, the Caps have struggled offensively this season, ranking 26th in goals and 27th on the power play. New coach Mike Sullivan said he’ll keep the Pens’ lines and power play units intact for now.  

Pens vs. Caps: The Penguins have won 10 of their last 13 meetings with the Caps, including a 3-1 victory at Verizon Center on Oct. 28. The Caps have won their last two meetings in Pittsburgh.

Ovi vs. Sid: This is the 35th meeting between Alex Ovechkin, who is second on the Caps with 25 points (14 goals, 11 assists) and Sidney Crosby, who is second on the Penguins with 19 points (six goal, 19 assists). In the previous 34 matchups the Penguins are 22-10-2. Crosby has 51 points (18 goals, 33 assists) in those 34 games, while Ovechkin has 38 points (22 goals, 16 assists). That’s 89 points in 34 games.

Dinners guests to enemies: Penguins right wing Eric Fehr had a few former teammates at his house for dinner on Sunday night but he says once the puck drops tonight it will be all business.

“It’s a big game for us,” he said. “With the new coaching staff and everything that’s gone down the last couple weeks, it’s all business for our team. We’ve got to find a way to get a win.”

In 18 games since returning from reverse Tommy John surgery, Fehr has three goals and two assists and is a plus-3 in his role as a bottom six forward. Caps center Jay Beagle was one of Fehr’s dinner guests on Sunday.

“He likes it a lot here,” Beagle said. “He’s doing really well. It’s always good to see him. He’s a good friend of mine and you miss a guy like that. But he knows he’s coming after us and we’re coming after him. It’s an old cliché that there’s no friends on the ice but it’s actually true. It’s all business and it’s what we get paid to do.”

Overrated: Sullivan minced no words when asked about his first morning skate as Pens coach: “For me, they could be the most overrated things in hockey,” he said. “They’ve become a fabric of the culture. A lot of players have superstitions and want to touch the puck.”

Special teams: The Penguins’ penalty kill ranks fifth in the NHL and will be asked to stopped the Caps’ third-ranked unit, which has received goals from nine different players.

“They are playing a very difficult system to defend,” Pens defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. “You can’t take penalties against them because they have an incredibly dangerous power play that is no longer just Ovechkin.

“Their first unit has scored 13 goals, their second unit has scored eight and Ovechkin only has four power play goals. So they’re beating teams in many different ways on the power play.

“Against that top line you really need to be dialed in every second. As soon as you get caught leaning the wrong way they can make you pay.”

RELATED: Crosby has 'something to prove' to new coach

Here’s a look at projected lineups for both teams:

CAPITALS

Forward lines

Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie

Marcus Johansson – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Justin Williams

Jason Chimera – Jay Beagle – Stanislav Galiev

Andre Burakovsky – Brooks Laich – Tom Wilson

Defense pairs

Nate Schmidt – John Carlson

Karl Alzner – Matt Niskanen

Dmitry Orlov – Taylor Chorney

Goaltenders

Braden Holtby (starter) - Philipp Grubauer

Injured: Brooks Orpik (lower body)

Scratches: Chris BrownMichael LattaChandler StephensonAaron Ness

PENGUINS

Forward lines

Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby – Beau Bennett

David Perron – Evgeni Malkin – Phil Kessel

Eric Fehr – Nick Bonino – Patric Hornqvist

Sergei Plotnikov – Matt Cullen – Daniel Sprong

Defense pairs

David Warsofsky – Olli Maatta

Brian Dumoulin – Ben Lovejoy

Rob Scuderi – Ian Cole

Goaltenders

Marc-Andre Fleury (starter) - Jeff Zatkoff

Injured: Kris Letang (upper body)

Scratches: Adam Clendening

MORE CAPITALS: Ovechkin, Caps weigh in on Pens coaching change

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How to Watch: Maple Leafs at Capitals: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream

How to Watch: Maple Leafs at Capitals: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream

Sitting firmly at third place in their respective divisions, the Capitals and Maple Leafs are both eager to grab another win for themselves in this classic Atlantic vs Metropolitan division matchup. 

Here is everything you need to know about the Wednesday night game, which takes place at 7:00 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Washington.

CAPITALS vs. MAPLE LEAFS HOW TO WATCH

What: Toronto Maple Leafs at Washington Capitals, Game 8 of the 2019-20 NHL Regular Season

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: 7:00 p.m. ET

TV Channel: The Capitals vs Maple Leafs game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (NBC Sports Washington Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can live stream Capitals vs Maple Leafs on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and on the NBC Sports App.

Radio: Caps 24/7 Radio, 106.7 The Fan FM

CAPITALS VS MAPLE LEAFS TV SCHEDULE

6:00 PM: Caps Faceoff Live

6:30 PM: Caps Pregame Live

7:00 PM: Capitals vs Maple Leafs

9:30 PM: Caps Postgame Live

10:00 PM: D.C. Sports Live

10:30 PM: Caps Overtime Live

MORE CAPITALS NEWS:

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There’s no setback, but just when Michal Kempny will return remains uncertain

There’s no setback, but just when Michal Kempny will return remains uncertain

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Around the time when the Colorado Avalanche scored its fourth goal to take a 4-0 lead on Monday, the Twitter questions started rolling in. “When is Michal Kempny coming back?”

The Caps’ top-pair left defenseman has yet to play this season after tearing his hamstring in March. His loss was a major factor in the team’s first-round defeat to the Carolina Hurricanes in the playoffs and has led to inconsistent defensive play to start the season.

But the Caps’ defense is going to have to figure out how to defend against the star-studded Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday without Kempny as head coach Todd Reirden declared after practice on Tuesday that Kempny will not play.

“We're getting close,” Reirden said. “That's at least today's report on him without having spoken to our trainer or team doctor anything right now. I just know that he took another step in terms of visually from me that he is getting closer and closer to game action.”

At the start of training camp, the hope was that Kempny would be able to return for the start of the season. He was not. The team elected not to place him on long-term injured reserve which requires a player to miss 10 games. Now seven games into the season, Kempny’s timetable remains uncertain.

When asked if he was hopeful Kempny could return for Friday’s game against the New York Rangers, Reirden did not sound all that confident.

“I am, yeah. I mean, I'm hopeful every time I walk into the training room.”

For the timeline to keep getting pushed back has raised concerns over whether Kempny has suffered a setback in his recovery, but Reirden insists that is not the case.

“There's not nothing to be concerned about,” he said. “If there was a setback I would let you know. There isn't one. He's going on the path he's supposed to be going on and many other people would have this as a longer-term injury than it already has been so he's doing great.”

Kempny was cleared for contact on Oct. 2. and has been a full participant at practice ever since. Getting him back to a point where the doctors and the team can feel comfortable about getting him into the lineup, however, has proven difficult.

Even after losing four of their first seven games to start the season including all three home games, Reirden says the team is committed to remaining patient and cautious with Kempny’s recovery.

“It's making the choice that's the right thing for our organization and for Michal,” he said. “I think that we've been really happy with the development of this player since we got him and saw the strides he made last year and then we were able to realize how big of a loss he would be when we didn't have him. I think that doing anything now to set him up for anything less than success is not worth it. We have to view the risk versus reward and there won't be any risk, it will be that he is 100-percent cleared, ready to go and ready to play.”