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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Sabres


AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Sabres

Fresh off Saturday night’s 3-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens, the Capitals (26-6-2, 54 points) are back in action tonight in Buffalo, where they’ll face the Sabres (15-16-4, 34 points) at Niagara Center (7 p.m., CSN+). Here are our AAA Keys to the Game:

They don’t know Jack, yet: This will be the Caps’ first look at rookie phenom Jack Eichel, who is second on the Sabres in goals (11) and third in points (20) after 35 games. Eichel has six points in his last three games.

“The game is always evolving and there’s new stars,” Caps coach Barry Trotz said. “Who’s going to replace the (Sidney) Crosbys and (Alex) Ovechkins? It’s going to be the (Connor) McDavids and Eichels.

“The thing about seeing McDavid is his speed. He does everything at lightning speed and it looked pretty easy. Eichel’s got fantastic hands, he’s got those exceptional puck skills and vision and he makes it look easy.

“He slows it down when needs to slow it down and he speeds it up when he needs to. And he’s got a little bit of an edge. He’s going to be a dynamic player -- he already is right now -- and we’ll see how it develops further down the road.”

Getting to know you: This is the first of back-to-back games between the Caps and Sabres, who will face off again on Wednesday night at Verizon Center.

While the Caps have won seven in a row, the Sabres are 2-0-1 in their last three games, including a 6-3 win over the Bruins on Saturday.

“The good thing about playing Buffalo back to back is … everything we do well or don’t do well we can pull out of the fire and use the next day,” Trotz said. “We’re going to have a feel for them at the end of the night and have a real good feel for how they play. I think they’re much improved from the start of the year.”

Trotz noted the Sabres are so deep offensively that they have a former 36-goal scorer, Matt Moulson, and a former 27-goal scorer, David Legwand, on the fourth line.

No Carly?: The Caps will learn before the game whether No. 1 defenseman John Carlson will be in th lineup. Carlson came off the ice early on Monday with a lower body injury and Trotz said he would leave Carlson’s availability up to his defenseman. He has a games-played streak of 412 games dating back to 2010-11.  

If Carlson cannot play, Connor Carrick will make his first NHL appearance since the 2013-14 season.


Between the pipes: The Caps will turn to Braden Holtby (22-4-1, 1.92, .932) who is 5-2-1 lifetime against the Sabres with a .2.90 GAA and .890 SP. The Sabres will turn to backup Linus Ullmark (5-7-2, 2.64, .911), who will be making his first start against the Caps.

Special teams: The Caps rank second in the NHL on the power play (25.2 percent) and fifth in penalty killing (84.7 percent). Buffalo ranks ninth on the power play (20.4 percent) and 23rd in penalty killing (78.2 percent).

Rattling the Sabres: Since the start of the 2008-09 season, the Capitals are 15-6-4 against the Sabres , including 6-1-2 in their last nine meetings.

Kane will play: Sabres second-line left wing Evander Kane is expected to be in the lineup following reports he is involved in a sex-offense investigation relating to an alleged incident at a Buffalo hotel Sunday morning.

“Obviously you guys are all aware of the situation that occurred, or that's going on right now," Kane said. There's not a whole lot I can say. I just want to say I've done nothing wrong; I look forward to clearing my name. I respect the legal process and, unfortunately at this time, there's not much more I can talk about."

Three Caps at WJCs: Capitals prospects Ilya Samsonov (Russia), Jonas Siegenthaler (Switzerland) and Vitek Vanecek (Czech Rebublic) are representing their countries at the 2016 World Junior Championships in Helsinki, Finland.

Vanecek, who was selected by the Capitals in the second round, 39th overall, in 2014, stopped 20 of 22 shots in the Czech Republic’s 2-1 shootout loss to Russia on Dec. 26.

Siegenthaler, taken in the second round, 57th overall, in 2015, recorded two penalty minutes in Switzerland’s 8-3 loss to Sweden on Dec. 26.

And Samsonov, drafted by the Capitals in the first round, 22nd overall, in 2015, served as the backup in Russia’s 2-1 shootout victory against the Czech Republic.

Here are the projected lineups for tonight:


Forward lines

Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie

Marcus Johansson – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Justin Williams

Jason Chimera – Jay Beagle – Tom Wilson

Brooks Laich – Michael Latta – Andre Burakovsky

Defense pairs

Nate Schmidt – John Carlson/Connor Carrick

Karl Alzner – Matt Niskanen

Dmitry Orlov – Taylor Chorney


Braden Holtby (starter) - Philipp Grubauer

Injured: Brooks Orpik (lower body), John Carlson (lower body)

Scratched: Stanislav Galiev


Forward lines

Jamie McGinn – Ryan O'Reilly – Sam Reinhart

Evander Kane – Jack Eichel – Tyler Ennis

Zemgus Girgensons – Johan Larsson – Brian Gionta

Matt Moulson – David Legwand – Nicolas Deslauriers

Defense pairs

Josh Gorges – Rasmus Ristolainen

Jake McCabe – Zach Bogosian

Mike Weber – Cody Franson


Linus Ullmark (starter) - Chad Johnson

Injured: Mark Pysyk (lower body), Robin Lehner (ankle), Cody McCormick (blood clot)

Scratched: Marcus FolignoCarlo Colaiacovo



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This Caps Stanley Cup tattoo has everyone's beat


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?