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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Senators

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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Senators

The Capitals (31-7-3, 65 points) begin the second half of their season tonight when they take on the Ottawa Senators (19-16-6, 44 points) at Verizon Center (6:30 p.m. pregame, CSN). Here are our AAA Keys to the Game: 

An-tic-i-pation: Alex Ovechkin is one goal away from becoming the fifth-fastest player to reach 500 goals. After his thrilling two-goal performance in New York on Saturday, he now has 499 goals in 800 NHL games.

Trotz said he thinks Ovechkin is feeling less pressure to score his 500th goal than he was to score his 484th, which moved him past Sergei Fedorov and into first place among Russian-born NHL Players.

“Just his demeanor,” Trotz said. “We all know he’s going to get 500.”

Ovi vs. Hamburglar: Ovechkin has never scored a goal against Senators goaltender Andrew Hammond, who expects him to bring an arsenal of shots tonight.

"When he scored 499 [Saturday], Hammond said to me, 'This guy is going to have 500 shots tomorrow night, he is going to shoot from everywhere,'" Senators forward Bobby Ryan told the Senators’ website. 

"That guy seems to pass a milestone every week for the past little while here. It will be a special moment for him but let's just hope he can wait a few days. ... I don't hope he shoots from everywhere but you know he is going to."

Hammond is 3-3-2 this season with a 2.35 GAA and .927 SP.

Grubi Nights: Caps backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer (4-3-1, 2.39 GAA, .914 SP) will make his eighth start of the season and first since New Year’s eve when he stopped 33 shots in a 4-2 loss in Carolina, a game in which Barry Trotz said his team “wasted” a solid effort by their goalie. Grubauer lost his only other career appearance against the Senators.

Mojo out, Sill in: Caps forward Marcus Johansson will serve the second game of his two-game suspension for an illegal check to the head of Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey.  However, Zach Sill will return from his two-game suspension for his hit from behind on Boston defenseman Adam McQuaid. Sill is expected to replace Paul Carey on the Caps’ fourth line, but Trotz said there are lots of forwards with “bumps and bruises” and there is a chance Carey stays in the lineup to replace one of those forwards.

Where they stand: The Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning are tied for the final wild card spot in the East with 46 points, one behind the Bruins. The Sens have lost four of their last five and seven of their last nine. The Caps have won three straight and are 12-1-1 in their last 14 to open up a 16-point lead over the Rangers and Islanders.

Injury update: Defenseman John Carlson will miss his seventh straight game with a lower body injury, while Brooks Orpik will sit out his 27th straight game, also with a lower body injury. Both players could hit the ice at Kettler on Tuesday following a day off on Monday, but Trotz was giving no assurances before Sunday’s game.

“We’ll see where they are on Tuesday,” Trotz said. “It’s up to them and the trainers. There’s no urgency. We’ll make sure they are 100 percent and then we’ll throw them back in the fold.”

RELATED: Watch TONIGHT: Alex Ovechkin History in the Making - 10 p.m.

Here’s a look at tonight’s projected lineups:

CAPITALS

Forward lines

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie

Andre Burakovsky - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Justin Williams

Jason Chimera - Michael Latta - Tom Wilson

Brooks Laich – Zach Sill - Stanislav Galiev

Defense pairs

Matt Niskanen - Karl Alzner

Dmitry Orlov - Nate Schmidt

Aaron Ness - Taylor Chorney

Goaltenders

Philipp Grubauer (starter) - Braden Holtby

Injured: Brooks Orpik (lower body), John Carlson (lower body), Jay Beagle (upper body)

Scratched: Mike Richards, Paul Carey

Suspended: Marcus Johansson

SENATORS

Forward lines

Bobby Ryan – Kyle Turris – Mark Stone

Mike Hoffman – Mika Zibanejad – Milan Michalek

Max McCormick – Jean-Gabriel Pageau – Curtis Lazar

Shane Prince – Zack Smith – Chris Neil

Defense pairs

Fredrik Claesson – Erik Karlsson

Marc Methot – Cody Ceci

Patrick Wiercioch – Mark Borowiecki

Goaltenders

Andrew Hammond (starter) - Craig Anderson

Scratched: Alex ChiassonJared CowenChris Wideman

Injured: Chris Phillips (back), Clarke MacArthur (concussion)

MORE CAPITALS: Why the Capitals are the toast of the NHL

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Can Tom Wilson change the way he plays?

Can Tom Wilson change the way he plays?

On Thursday in New York, Tom Wilson will present his case to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and argue why he does not deserve the 20-game suspension handed down to him by the Department of Player Safety. Regardless of whether or not Bettman decides to reduce the suspension, there’s a larger question that now hangs over Wilson and one that will determine the direction his career goes from here.

Can Wilson change his game?

There is no question whether the hit he delivered to St. Louis Blue forward Oskar Sundqvist which earned him the suspension was illegal. The DoPS’s explanation video lays out why it was a bad hit. This is also Wilson’s fourth suspension in just 105 games meaning the next suspension will be even more severe.

When you have to think about suspensions of more than 20 games, those are serious. They have serious consequences for both the team and the player.

Like it or not, Wilson will have to change the way he plays. But can he?

Can a player who has played a certain way his entire career, a player who made it to the NHL playing the way he does, simply change his game?

“Every player can add different elements to their game,” Reirden said Tuesday when asked about Wilson. “I think it's a line that needs to be towed with him in regard to he has a physical element that is a difference maker for him and using him at the proper times and in the proper ways.”

The team is not going to ask him to not be physical and, despite what Caps fans may think, neither will the league. The point is he needs to be smarter about when he is physical and make sure to keep his hits legal. That means playing smarter.

The hit to Sundqvist was unnecessary. Wilson could have played the stick instead of going for the hit. The fact that it also came in the preseason is significant as well. At that point, he should not even be thinking about delivering a big hit to anyone because it is a meaningless game.

Against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs last season, Wilson is headed to the bench for a line change, but turns to deliver a hit to Zach Aston-Reese. That hit ended up breaking Aston-Reese’s jaw and resulted in a three-game suspension for Wilson. He could have simply gone to the bench and the entire situation could have been avoided.

Wilson absolutely can be a successful player if he plays smarter. He is not on the top line because of his hitting, he is there because he is a good skater with offensive skill who can win board battles with his physical play. The hits are just one aspect of his game, but he is a much more dynamic player than his detractors give him credit for.

But there’s no denying part of what makes him successful is being a good hitter. Reirden knows that and doesn’t want that aspect to be taken out of Wilson’s game completely.

“To expect him to go out there and not finish anymore checks is not going to be very effective either,” Reirden said. “We're working towards a good product for him so he can continue to be back in our team. He's such an important piece to what we do here. We want to have him back as quick as we can and then we want to keep him in the lineup so we'll be discussing that further after things are done.”


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Caps’ dominant power play comes through yet again in win over Rangers

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Caps’ dominant power play comes through yet again in win over Rangers

It seems so simple. The Capitals have one of the best goal-scorers of all-time in Alex Ovechkin and on the power play, he’s almost always in the same spot. He sets up in the “office,” the faceoff circle on the left side of the ice, and waits for one-timers. Everyone knows the Caps are trying to get him the puck, everyone knows the shot is coming.

But nobody can stop it.

“It’s still pretty unique,” Matt Niskanen said after the 4-3 overtime win. “Basic logic tells you it’d be easy to stop, but it’s not.”

Even Ovechkin has no explanation. “It’s all about luck,” he said.

New York Rangers head coach David Quinn had another word for it.

“Sickening.”

Quinn’s Rangers were the latest victims of a power play that has been among the league’s best units for several years. Since 2005, no team in the NHL has a better power play percentage than the Capitals’ 20.8-percent. They once again look lethal this season with the unit currently clicking at an incredible 39.1-percent.

Ovechkin tallied two power play goals Wednesday, both from the office, to help power the Caps to a 4-3 win over New York. Both of Ovechkin’s goals looked pretty similar with John Carlson on the point feeding Ovechkin in the office for the one-timer.

Ovechkin obviously is what powers the team’s power play. With him on the ice, other teams need to account for him at all times.

But the real key to the Caps’ success with the extra man is not Ovechkin, but the other weapons around him.

“In order to completely take [Ovechkin] away other guys are just too open and they’re good enough to score,” Niskanen said. “Are you gonna leave [T.J. Oshie] open in the slot from the hash marks to cover [Ovechkin]? Our power play is set up well with what hands guys are and their skill sets so we have a lot of different options. Guys are good at reading what’s open. It’s pretty lethal.”

“Nobody knows who's going to take a shot when we play like that,” Ovechkin said. “And it's fun to play like that, to be honest with you. When [Nicklas Backstrom] and when [Evgeny Kuznetsov] feeling the puck well, they can find you in the right time and the right place -- same as [Carlson]."

With so many weapons on the power play, teams are forced to choose between playing Ovechkin tight and leaving other players like Kuznetsov and Oshie wide open, or trying to play a traditional penalty kill and risk giving Ovechkin too much room for the one-timer.

The Rangers chose the latter on Wednesday and they suffered the consequences.

“I don't think many teams have played him like they did tonight,” Carlson said. “They gave him a lot more space.”

And Carlson certainly took advantage as well.

Washington’s power play seems to have found a new gear now with the emergence of Carlson. He took his game to a new level last season and he seems to have picked up right where he left off. On Wednesday, as part of a three-point night for him, Carlson provided two brilliant setups for Ovechkin on the power play.

“He dominates the game, I think,” Niskanen said of Carlson. “Moves the puck well, skates well for a big man, can defend. He’s got that offensive feel for the game and offensive touch. Big shot. He’s a good player.”

For many years, it looked like the only thing missing from the Caps’ power play was Mike Green. Carlson has always been good, but no one was able to setup Ovechkin quite as well as Green was in the height of the “young guns” era of the Caps. Now that Carlson seems to be coming into his own as a superstar blueliner who can both score and feed Ovechkin with the best of them, that makes an already dominant Caps’ power play even more lethal.

That was certainly on display Wednesday as the Caps fired eight shots on goal with the extra man. Ovechkin’s two goals tie him for ninth on the NHL’s all-time power play goals list with Dino Ciccarelli at 232.

Even with Ovechkin now 33 years old and after several years of dominance with the extra man, the Caps’ power play may be better than ever.

“They don’t get rattled,” Quinn said. “There’s a confidence to them and a swagger to them, which they should have.  They’ve been playing together a long time and they’re the defending Stanley Cup champions, so they should play with a swagger.”

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