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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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GM Brian MacLellan: Capitals are close to re-signing John Carlson

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USA TODAY Sports

GM Brian MacLellan: Capitals are close to re-signing John Carlson

DALLAS—The Caps are “really close” to signing star defenseman John Carlson to a long-term extension, GM Brian MacLellan said Friday night.

“We’re getting closer,” MacLellan said following the first round of the NHL Draft. “Hopefully we can get it done here over the next few days. We’re really close.”

Earlier in the day, the Caps cleared significant space under the salary cap ceiling by trading Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik to Colorado for a second round draft pick (47th overall). 

That space will now be used to lock up Carlson, who could become the best defenseman on the open market if he were to reach it.

MacLellan met with Carlson’s agent, Rick Curran, here on Thursday night.

MacLellan did not divulge any figures, but it’s expected that Carlson’s new contract could come in at eight years and $8 million per—or perhaps a bit more. 

He earned $4 million last season.

Carlson had a career year in 2017-18 and was critical during the Caps' run to the Stanley Cup. He led all defensemen in the regular season with 68 points (15 goals, 53 assists). The 28-year-old also skated a career-high 24:47 per game.

MacLellan has long said that re-signing Carlson was the Caps’ top priority this offseason. And now it looks like that could happen within days, assuming the talks do not hit any snags.

“We’re going to do our best to sign John,” MacLellan said. “We’ve said it all along. We waited until the end of the year. We’ve had discussions. We’re close and hopefully we can close the deal here over the next 24 hours.”

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Capitals go to the WHL again, select defenseman Alex Alexeyev with first-round pick

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USA TODAY Sports

Capitals go to the WHL again, select defenseman Alex Alexeyev with first-round pick

The last time the Washington Capitals had a first-round draft pick, they selected a WHL defenseman. They did not go off script on Friday.

With the last pick of the first round, selecting for the first time as defending Stanley Cup champions, the Capitals selected Alexander Alexeyev, a left-shooting, two-way defenseman from St. Petersburg.

Alexeyev, 18, certainly boasts NHL size at 6' 4", 196 pounds. He currently plays for Red Deer in the WHL, a junior league that has become a major pipeline for the Capitals. In his second season with Red Deer, he tallied 37 points in 45 games.

The NHL Central Scouting's rankings list Alexeyev as the 22nd best North American skater of the draft. TSN projects him to be a top-four, two-way defenseman.

Analyst Craig Button described Alexeyev as a "Smart, effective defenceman who moves the puck, plays with a calm and doesn't make things complicated for himself."

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