NEW YORK -- The Capitals (30-7-3, 63 points) will face off against the New York Rangers (22-14-4, 48 points) today in Madison Square Garden (1 p.m., CSN). Here are our AAA Keys to the Game:
Holtby vs. Lundqvist: Braden Holtby (26-4-2, 1.90, .933) puts his 18-0-2 streak on the line when he faces Henrik Lundqvist (18-11-3, 2.49, .920), who is 4-6-0 in his last 10 decisions, including a 7-3 loss to the Caps on Dec. 20 in New York in which he allowed five goals on 24 shots and was yanked after two periods.
Johansson out, Latta in: Caps coach Barry Trotz said he was disappointed in the two-game suspension Marcus Johansson received for his illegal check to the head of Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey Thursday night. “I thought it was a pretty legal hit,” Trotz said. “Hickey said after the game that it was partially his fault. Marcus is not even close to that type of player. I was surprised he got two games. It is what it is and we move on.”
With Johansson out, center Michael Latta will move into his spot on the third line between Jason Chimera and Tom Wilson. Brooks Laich will move to fourth-line center on a line with left wing Paul Carey and right wing Stan Galiev. Trotz said he sees this as a “great challenge” for Latta.
Trotz said Carey, who will wear No. 28, has good speed and skill and can play center or wing. Trotz said he might also double shift centers Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov.
Hat trick from 500: Alex Ovechkin will be playing in his 800th NHL game and is three goals away from 500 in his career. In 41 career games against the Rangers he has 24 goals and 39 points but has never scored a hat trick against the Blueshirts.
Trotz was asked if he senses any nervousness from his 30-year-old captain as he approaches the milestone.
“Nothing,” Trotz said. “We haven’t even talked about that.
“I think the Russian one (his 484th) got a lot of play when he passed (Sergei) Fedorov (on Nov. 19). I think he was more nervous for that one than he is now.
“He’s going to score a lot more than 500 goals. I’m pretty sure on that. It’s a big milestone, but I think he’s got other milestones he wants to achieve as well.”
What the Rangers are saying: The Rangers are 5-8-2 since the start of December, including that 7-3 loss to the Caps in which they blew a 3-1 lead. Coach Alain Vigneault said the Rangers will need to play their “best game” to beat the Caps, who have won two straight after a brief 0-1-1 slide.
“Skill, size, speed, great transition game and probably the hottest goaltender in the league right now,” Vigneault said of Holtby and the Caps. “…We’re ready. We know right now that Washington’s the best in the league and it’s gonna take our best game.”