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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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This Caps Stanley Cup tattoo has everyone's beat

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Twitter/@PeachOmania

This Caps Stanley Cup tattoo has everyone's beat

Since the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup for the first time over one month ago, Caps fans, (and players), have rushed to their local tattoo parlor to get some ink commemorating the win.

We've seen the classic Capitals logo with the Stanley Cup, but nothing that comes close to the masterpiece that is Shane Peacher's tattoo.

Peacher tweeted to Joe B and Courtney Laughlin the finished tat: a work of art featuring Alex Ovechkin kissing the Stanley Cup for the first time as it's hoisted over his head.

Joe B replied making sure Shane had enough room on his other tricep for next year.

Shane replied that he's thinking of Evgeny Kuznetsov's iconic celebration that has since been dubbed the "birdman."

Shane got his Caps tattoo at the Helix Tattoo Lodge in Rising Sun, Maryland, by tattoo artist, Justin Holcombe.

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Key Caps questions: Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing long-term?

Key Caps questions: Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing long-term?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing a long-term contract?

Tarik: When a player has a career year and it coincides with the final year of his contract, the reaction from some fans and media is often a sarcastic, ‘Well, of course he did.’

And I’m sure there are some folks who wonder about Carlson’s breakout season and whether there was a connection between the uptick in his production and the potential of an enormous payday.

Indeed, the 28-year-old established highs in goals (15), assists (53), points (68) and ice time (24:47). He was outstanding in the postseason, too, amassing five goals and 15 assists while playing solidly in his own end to help lead the Caps to their first championship.

The financial reward came a couple of weeks later when he signed an eight-year, $64 million contract to remain in Washington.

Which brings us to today’s question.

It’s obviously impossible to say for sure what’s going to happen, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he had another big season. Why? A few reasons:

  • As good as he was, last year wasn’t a total outlier, either. Carlson racked up 55 points (12 goals, 43 assists) in 2014-15, which was tied for fifth best among blue liners that year.
  • He was at his best last season skating with trade deadline addition Michal Kempny. Kempny, of course, also re-upped, agreeing to a four-year extension. So, in theory, Carlson should be able to pick up where he left off.
  • Carlson has credited Todd Reirden with helping him take his game to new heights. Well, Reirden is now the guy in charge of the whole operation. How could that not help?
  • A major reason Carlson puts up so many points is his role on the power play. And that unit, which really hit its stride in the postseason (29.3-percent), returns all five skaters.
  • Carlson has also been pretty durable, which is critical to being productive. In fact, last season he skated in all of the Caps’ games for the sixth time in eight full-time seasons.

So, yeah, it’s all setting up nicely for Carlson to have a strong 2018-19.

To me, the only unknown is whether he’ll have the same hunger and determination now that he’s got long-term security and that previously elusive championship ring.

Again, that’s impossible to predict. But I can tell you this: Over the course of two decades in this business, I’ve covered lots of players who inked life-changing contracts. With a few of them, I had immediate concerns.

I have no such reservations about Carlson's ability to play up to his new deal, particularly in the first several seasons of it.

JJ: There's nothing wrong with a player being motivated by a new deal, but I am always wary when players have career years on the last year of their contract.

The issue is whether or not a player can continue to play at the level they showed when a new contract is no longer a motivating factor. After signing a new deal for eight years and $64 million, Carlson won't have to think about money or contracts for a long time.

When it comes to motivation, a lot of the questions surrounding the Capitals this year will depend on how they react to winning the Cup. Of course everyone wants to repeat, but psychologically will they come into camp more motivated than ever to defend their title or will they be satisfied with finally winning it all?

For Carlson, there are several reasons to be hopeful. Tarik went over a number of those reasons above, but the two biggest for me are Michal Kempny and Todd Reirden.

This season, Carlson will have Kempny as his partner to start, rather than a cycle of practically every left-handed defenseman on the ice depending on the situation. Second, what Mitch Korn is to goalies, Reirden is to defensemen. With him as the head coach, I believe the ceiling for Carlson will only continue to climb.

Let's also go beyond the numbers. Matt Niskanen suffered an injury early last season that forced Carlson into a primary role on both ends of the ice. He was playing nearly 30 minutes a night and, with two rookies on the blue line who Barry Trotz did everything he could to shelter, those were very hard minutes. Yet, Carlson excelled. The offensive upside was always there, but the way he played defensively was a revelation.

While Dmitry Orlov and Niskanen will remain a solid pair for the Caps, I believe Carlson will be the guy heading into the season which will mean more minutes and more responsibility.

Plus, despite what he meant to the team's defense and despite leading all defensemen in points with 68, Carlson was not selected to participate in the All-Star Game, he was not one of the three finalists for the Norris Trophy and he was not among the four defensemen named to the end of season All-Star team. His incredible season earned him no recognition at all other than his new contract. A $64 million contract is a heck of a consolation prize, but his season deserved more recognition than that.

You don't often see a player of his caliber enter a season with a chip on his shoulder, but Carlson should have a fairly sizable one.

Other key questions

How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?
Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?
Can Alex Ovechkin still challenge for another Rocket Richard Trophy?
Has Evgeny Kuznetsov made the jump from really good player to superstar?