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.”