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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Red Wings

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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Red Wings

The Capitals (18-5-2, 38 points) will try to avoid their first back-to-back losses of the season tonight when they take on the Detroit Red Wings (15-8-4, 34 points) for the third and final time this season at Verizon Center (7:30 p.m., NBCSN). Here are our AAA Keys to the Game:

Catching a break?: Braden Holtby (16-4-1, 1.95 GAA, .928 SP) will make his eighth straight appearance for the Caps. He is 6-0-1 in his previous seven appearances.

Despite a pair of incredible performances against the Caps, goaltender Petr Mrazek (8-4-3, 2.41, .924) will sit the bench in favor of Jimmy Howard, who is 7-4-1 with a 2.28 GAA and .918 SP. Mrazek allowed just two goals on 65 shots in his previous two starts against the Caps this season, including a 38-save shutout on Nov. 10.

"The biggest thing for us is we feel confident in both guys and both guys give us a great chance to win," Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill told reporters. "It'll be Jimmy's job to go in tonight and get us a win."

What it means: The Caps can leapfrog over the New York Rangers and into the Metro Division lead with a win or overtime loss tonight. The Rangers play again in Vancouver on Wednesday. A win would also move Barry Trotz ahead of former Caps coach and Red Wings GM Bryan Murray and into 10th place on the NHL’s all-time wins list. Trotz and Murray are tied with 620 coaching victories.

Tough to crack: The Caps have managed just two goals against the Red Wings this season, none at 5-on-5. Justin Williams netted a power-play goal and Evgeny Kuznetsov scored in 3-on-3 overtime when the teams last met on Nov. 18.

“They do a real good job tracking and they don’t give you any space,” Trotz said. “They block a lot of shots, they come back to the house. They force you to score goals from the perimeter and from turnovers. They collapse and cut the ice right in half. They have good sticks and a high commitment level.”

Johansson back, Burakovsky demoted: With Marcus Johansson back in the lineup after missing one game with a lower body injury and Tom Wilson coming off a strong game on the third line, Andre Burakavosky will drop to fourth line right wing, where he’ll play with center Michael Latta and left wing Brooks Laich.

In his last game in Winnipeg, Burakovsky tugged jerseys with 6-foot-5, 260-pound defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, but the two did not exchange any punches.

“I probably don’t like his odds if Byfuglien decided to drop the gloves,” Trtoz said with a smile. “But I like the fact he’s not going to back down. That shows me he’s got lots of fire and lots of passion.”

Burakovsky, 20, has just two goals and five assists in 23 games this season.

“He’s been better every game and that’s what you’re looking for,” Trotz said. “We look long-term with him.  He’s going to be one of those guys who scores a lot of goals for us over the years. Right now he’s not scoring a lot and hopefully he breaks through and helps that cause.”

Proud papas: Many of the Capitals’ fathers will be watching tonight’s game from a suite. The Caps’ annual dads’ trip will take place following practice on Wednesday at Kettler, when the club departs for a three-day stay in Florida, where the Caps will visit the Panthers on Thursday and Lightning on Saturday.

Trotz says he tries to get every player into the lineup on his fathers’ trips.

“Last year I did that and I’d like to continue with that,” Trotz said. “Our play will dictate a little bit of that, and injuries. But my plan is to get everybody in, especially if your dad’s here. If your dad’s not here your chances are a little less.”

[RELATED: Green talks fond memories in first trip to Washington]

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Defense optional as Caps handed 8-5 loss in Chicago

Defense optional as Caps handed 8-5 loss in Chicago

The Chicago Blackhawks handed the Capitals their fifth straight loss on Sunday in an ugly 8-5 defeat. All five of Washington's goals came from defensemen as the team's top forwards continued to struggle.

Here are five reasons the Caps lost.

Missed early opportunities

The game got off to a great start. Tom Wilson fed Jakub Vrana in the middle for a great early opportunity and Lars Eller had another shot with the rebound. Washington also got a power play less than two minutes into the game and was brilliant with the setup, keeping the puck in the zone for the full two minutes and getting a number of high-quality opportunities.

But they didn’t score and that soon loomed very large.

Brandon Saad put Chicago on the board 6:36 into the first and Patrick Kane scored 80 seconds later to make it 2-0, thus erasing the Caps’ strong start.

The goals have been hard to come by for the Caps so when they had the opportunity to take the early lead, they absolutely had to finish. They didn’t and the game got away from them as a result.

A bad play by Madison Bowey

Bowey will be cringing at the replay of the Saad goal for a while. Saad broke the puck out of the defensive zone and carried it into the neutral zone. Bowey had a bead on him until Saad cut to the center. Suddenly Bowey was caught flat footed. He reached for Saad with a weak stick check which Saad easily fought through with no real resistance and he was in on net. He finished the play with the game’s first goal.

 An own-goal

This was really the moment when you realized this was not going to be a good day for Washington.

Down 2-0, Brooks Orpik managed to sneak a softy through goalie Colin Delia to make it 2-1. Just 28 seconds later, however, bad luck struck the Caps yet again.

Dmitry Orlov and Jonathan Toews battled for the puck right in front of the crease and it bounced into he air. Orlov swiped at it with his glove to try to clear it from danger, but instead knocked it right over Holtby and into the net. The own goal made it 3-1 and signaled that Washington was in for a long day.

An ill-advised penalty

This game felt like it quickly was getting out of hand. Somehow, however, the Caps managed to keep things close. Dmitry Orlov snuck another squeaker through Delia in the second and John Carlson fired a one-timer early in the third to make the score 4-3. All of a sudden, the Caps had signs of life. With all the momentum on their side, however, Nicklas Backstrom was whistled for hooking Toews just 23 seconds later.

You could tell what was about to happen.

Sure enough, Kane scored 13 seconds into the power play to restore the Blackhawks’ two-goal lead.

The Toews hat trick

Once again, Washington tried to battle back. Matt Niskanen scored with just over six minutes remaining in the game, the fifth goal from a Caps’ defenseman, to pull the score to 6-5. Toews provided the coffin nail just over a minute later with an absolutely brutal play on Orlov.

Toews entered the offensive zone and Orlov took an awful approach. Toews finessed the puck right in front of Orlov which he should have been able to easily sweep away. Instead, he whiffed completely allowing Toews to regain the puck, step past Orlov and fired it under the pad and into the net.

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Devante Smith-Pelly named a starter in return to Chicago after ugly racial taunts

Devante Smith-Pelly named a starter in return to Chicago after ugly racial taunts

The top line for the Capitals on Sunday against the Chicago Blackhawks is Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie, but the starting lineup is Ovechkin, Backstrom and Devante Smith-Pelly. Why the change?

It all has to do with the last time the Caps visited Chicago nearly a year ago.

On Feb. 17, 2018, Washington went into the United Center and were obliterated by the Blackhawks 7-1. But that wasn’t the ugliest thing to happen that night.

While sitting in the penalty box, Devante Smith-Pelly faced racial taunts from some Chicago fans who began chanting “basketball, basketball” at him.

In the wake of the incident, Smith-Pelly handled himself about as gracefully as one could. So, in the team’s return to Chicago Sunday, head coach Todd Reirden felt he should be on the ice for the national anthem.

According to Pierre McGuire during the game broadcast, the idea came from Oshie himself, who advocated that Smith-Pelly start in his place.

The starters traditionally stand on the ice for the anthem while the rest of the players stand at the bench.

Smith-Pelly has remained active against racism in the sport. He and teammate John Carlson invited a youth hockey team whose lone African-American player had faced racial taunts during a game to the Caps’ game on Monday.

Sunday’s move by Reirden is a classy tribute to Smith-Pelly who handled an ugly situation about as well as one could. 

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