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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Wild

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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Wild

The Capitals (39-9-4, 82 points) will look to extend their four-game win streak tonight in St. Paul when they face the struggling Minnesota Wild (23-20-10, 56 points) at Xcel Energy Center (7:30 pregame, CSN+). Here are our AAA Keys to the Game:

No Richards, no Orpik: Caps center Mike Richards, who turned 31 today, will miss his first game due to injury since joining the Capitals. Richards got tangled up in the neutral zone with Predators forward Filip Forsberg early on Tuesday night and managed to stay in the game, logging 9:55 in ice time. With Richards out, look for Stan Galiev to replace him on a fourth line with Brooks Laich and Michael Latta.

Defenseman Brooks Orpik is expected to miss his 38th straight game with a lower body injury. Orpik could return to the lineup on Saturday night against the Dallas Stars. Until then, Dmitry Orlov and Taylor Chorney will remain on the CVaps’ third defense unit.

Where they stand: The Caps have built a 15-point lead over the New York Rangers and have won four in a row following back-to-back losses.  The Wild have lost six straight (0-3-3) and 11 of 12.

Goaltending matchup: The Caps will go with Braden Holtby, who is 26-1-3 in his last 30 decisions, while the Wild go with Devan Dubnyk, who has lost his last eight decisions.

Riding Suter: The Wild will be without injured defensemen Jonas Brodin (broken foot) and Jared Spurgeon (deep bruise), which means Mike Reilly and Nate Prosser will make up their third defense pairing. It also means more ice time for Ryan Suter, who ranks second in the NHL behind Erik Karlsson in average ice time with 28:40.  

Beyond regulation: While the Caps are 6-4 in games beyond regulation (3-1 in shootouts) the Wild are 1-10 beyond regulation (0-2 in shootouts).

RELATED: Pet rabbit calling for Wild coach to be fired

Here are projected lineups for both teams: 

CAPITALS 
Forward lines

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie  
Andre Burakovsky - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Justin Williams  
Jason Chimera - Marcus Johansson - Tom Wilson  
Stan Galiev - Brooks Laich - Michael Latta  

Defense pairings

Nate Schmidt - John Carlson  
Karl Alzner - Matt Niskanen  
Dmitry Orlov - Taylor Chorney  

Goaltenders

Braden Holtby (starter) - Philipp Grubauer  

Injured: Brooks Orpik (lower body), Mike Richards (undisclosed), Jay Beagle (hand). WILD 

Forward lines

Zach Parise - Mikko Koivu - Charlie Coyle  
Nino Niederreiter - Mikael Granlund - Jason Pominville  
Thomas Vanek - Erik Haula - Justin Fontaine  
Ryan Carter - Jarret Stoll - Jason Zucker  

Defense pairings

Ryan Suter - Matt Dumba  
Marco Scandella - Christian Folin  
Mike Reilly - Nate Prosser  

Goaltenders

Devan Dubnyk (starter) - Darcy Kuemper  

Injured: Jared Spurgeon (deep bruise), Jonas Brodin (foot) 
Scratched: Chris PorterNiklas Backstrom

MORE CAPITALS: ESPN projects Holtby to make Canadian WC team but not start

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The goal that no one wanted: Alex Ovechkin gives up hat trick to set up T.J. Oshie

The goal that no one wanted: Alex Ovechkin gives up hat trick to set up T.J. Oshie

Alex Ovechkin had two goals, the puck on his stick and an empty-net yawning. The Caps held a 4-2 lead on Monday against the Vancouver Canucks late in the third period and the win looked all but secured. The only thing still up for grabs was the exclamation point empty-net goal.

Ovechkin took the puck in the defensive zone and weaved his way through the neutral zone. Once he hit center ice, there was only one player between him and the net. The hat trick looked all but certain…until he passed the puck away.

He easily could have taken the puck himself and fired it into the empty yet, but instead he chose to pass it off to T.J. Oshie on the wing.

Oshie delayed, but with the trailing Vancouver players skating into the passing lane, there was no way for Oshie to try to pass it back to Ovechkin and he very reluctantly shot the puck into the net.

When the players returned to the bench, the disappointment on Oshie’s face was clear to see. He wanted Ovechkin to get the hat trick, but Ovechkin wasn’t having it.

After the game, head coach Todd Reirden praised Ovechkin for his leadership.

“He could have easily got in the red and tried to score himself and it wasn’t even a thought,” Reirden said. “He passed right to Osh and Osh couldn’t go back to him and that’s the way it worked out. It doesn’t bother him one bit and I think that’s where you see a different player than maybe you saw three or four years ago that is not focused on individual stuff. He’s doing the right thing and he feels if you do the right thing for long enough, you’re going to get rewarded.

“We were benefactors of that last season with being able to win out at the end. He’s really got a lot of buy-in right now for doing the right thing. I think his leadership is really in the last probably year, year and a half has really gone to a new level.”
 
Reirden saw leadership on the play. Oshie saw disappointment.
 
Ovechkin offered his own explanation for giving up the shot as he said, “Save it for next time.”

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Nicklas Backstrom passes 600 career assists with a three-point night vs. Canucks

Nicklas Backstrom passes 600 career assists with a three-point night vs. Canucks

Nicklas Backstrom can so often be overlooked thanks to his superstar teammates. But on a night in which Alex Ovechkin scored two goals and four points and John Carlson had a goal and three points, Backstrom was the man of the hour on Monday in Vancouver.

With his three assists on the night, Backstrom tallied assists No. 599, 600 and 601 of his career. He is just the 87th player in the history of the NHL to reach the 600-assist mark.

“It means that I’ve been playing in this league a long time I think now,” Backstrom told NBC Sports Washington’s Alan May after the game. “It's a nice milestone, of course, but we’re not going to stop here. We’re just going to keep going.”

Very fittingly, Backstrom’s 600th assist came on a power play goal to Ovechkin. Per NHL Stats, 235 of Backstrom’s 601 assists have been to Ovechkin. T.J. Oshie comes in at a very, very distant second as Backstrom has set up the veteran winger 49 times.

Ovechkin and Backstrom’s careers will be forever linked given the success they have had together in Washington. While that has caused many to overlook the soft-spoken Swede, it is foolish to continue to underrate him and his ability.

Backstrom is an absolute superstar who just so happens to play on the same team as one of the best players in the world and one of the biggest personalities in the sport.

But make no mistake, Backstrom is an elite talent in his own right.

Backstrom is now the first player from the 2006 draft class to reach 600 assists. The next closest is Philadelphia Flyers forward Claude Giroux with 471.

The level of success Backstrom has managed to find while in the league has been surprising even to him.

“I wasn’t really sure what I expected out of myself,” he said. “I was just trying to enjoy it. Luckily this organization believed in me and played me a lot after a couple games there and then it just took off. It’s been going fast, but I’ve had so much fun.”

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