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AAA Keys to the Game: Caps vs. Red Wings

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AAA Keys to the Game: Caps vs. Red Wings

It will be a little retro night for the Capitals (11-4-1, 23 points) tonight in Detroit when Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are reunited on the Caps’ top line when they face the Red Wings (9-8-1, 19 points) at Joe Louis Arena (8 p.m., NBCSN). Here are our AAA Keys to the Game:

Super Trio: For the first time all season the Caps will begin a game with center Nicklas Backstrom between left wing Alex Ovechkin and right wing T.J. Oshie, while center Evgeny Kuznetsov drops onto a second line with left wing Marcus Johanasson and right wing Andre Burakovsky.

“It hasn’t been working for the last couple games so maybe he wants to switch it up,” Backstrom said. “It’ll be fun if it happens.”

Backstrom has six goals and six assists for 12 points in 13 games this season. He missed the first three games of the season following offseason hip surgery.

“It took a couple games to get going again,” Backstrom said. “My legs felt good when I got back but stickhandling I felt rusty. I feel good now.”

Backstrom has earned an assist on 174 of Alex Ovechkin’s 385 goals since the two became teammates in 2007-08. Backstrom ranks first on the Capitals franchise assist list (433) and fifth in points (584). Since he entered the NHL Backstrom ranks third in the league in assists (433), trailing Henrik Sedin (483) and Joe Thornton (461).

Let me help you with that: It could be coincidence or it could be fate, but Backstrom has a chance to make a teammate Russia’s all-time goals leader for the second time in his career.  Back on Oct. 26, 2008, Backstrom set up Sergei Fedorov for his 474th goal, which broke Alexander Mogilny’s all-time record for NHL goals by a Russian-born player.

Fedorov was 38 at the time and his goal came on the power play in Dallas against the Stars.

“I remember he was proud about it,” Backstrom said. “At the time he probably didn’t know if Ovi would someday break it or not.”
Ovechkin, who is tied with Fedorov with 483 NHL goals, needs one more to become the Russian goal king. Fedorov finished with 483 goals in 1,248. Ovechkin has 473 goals in 775 games. Backstrom was asked if he finds it ironic that he could have an assist on both historic goals.

“To be honest I don’t think about it,” he said. “If it happens, good for him. I’m happy for him. He scored two already and both were taken away by coach’s challenges. I feel bad for him, but I know it’s going to come pretty soon.”

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Petr the Gr8: Red Wings goalie Petr Mrazek (5-4-0. 2.18 GAA, .935 SP) will get the start for Detroit. He made 38 saves in a 1-0 shutout win over the Capitals last Tuesday night in Detroit, stopping Ovechkin 15 times in the victory. It marked the first time in Ovechkin’s career that he recorded 15 shots without a goal. Mrazek is expected to get the start tonight.

“Ovi has (15) shots and I think he saw just about every one of them,” Caps left wing Jason Chimera said. “We need to create a lot more havoc around the net, which equals a lot of goals in this league.”

Braden Holtby (9-4-0, 2.01 GAA, .919 SP) will get the call for the Caps, with backup Philipp Grubauer possibly slated for Thursday night at home when the Caps face the Dallas Stars.

Where they stand:  The Caps are coming off Friday night’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Calgary Flames and are 1-4-0 when coming off more than two days between games. They have not lost two games in a row all season, going 4-0-0 following losses. The Caps are second in the Metropolitan Division with 23 points, seven behind the New York Rangers. The Islanders also have 23 points but have played three more games than the Caps.

The Red Wings are third in the Atlantic Division with 19 points, two behind the Ottawa Senators and 11 behind the Montreal Canadiens. They’ve lost two of their last three and three of their last five but are coming off a 4-3 overtime win in Ottawa Monday night.

Faster start: The Caps have allowed the first goal in seven straight games and admitted to allowing the Flames dictate the pace of Friday’s game, going up 2-0 before the Caps forced overtime with a pair of third-period goals.  

“I think our team is at its best when we’re playing fast, playing hard, playing physical and getting in on teams’ defense and making their lives difficult,” Caps right wing Tom Wilson said. “We had that identity last year of being heavy and big.

“We added a little bit of skill with Willy (Justin Williams) and Osh (T.J. Oshie) but we still have that identity and when we’re playing fast and we’re playing hard I don’t think a lot of teams want to play against us. That’s something we need to find again this year.”

Facing Greenie: The Caps will be facing former teammate Mike Green for the second time in eight days. Green played 10 seasons in Washington before signing a three-year, $18 million contract with the Red Wings over the summer. Chimera acknowledged there were a few times Green seemed to know what the Caps were doing as well as they did.

“He knows guys’ tendencies and what they do and he makes good reads,” Chimera said. “His familiarity with each and every one of us probably lets him play a little more aggressive against a team like us because he knows what we’re going to do.”

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

CAPITALS

Forward lines

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie

Marcus Johansson - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Andre Burakovsky

Jason Chimera - Jay Beagle - Justin Williams

Brooks Laich - Michael Latta - Tom Wilson

Defense pairings

Nate Schmidt - John Carlson

Karl Alzner - Matt Niskanen

Dmitry Orlov - Taylor Chorney

Goaltenders

Braden Holtby (starter) - Philipp Grubauer

Scratches: Stanislav Galiev

Injured: Brooks Orpik (lower body, could be available on Thursday)

RED WINGS

Forward lines

Justin Abdelkader - Henrik Zetterberg - Gustav Nyquist

Tomas Tatar - Pavel Datsyuk - Dylan Larkin

Drew Miller - Andreas Athanasiou - Teemu Pulkkinen

Darren Helm - Luke Glendening - Riley Sheahan

Defense pairings

Niklas Kronwall - Mike Green

Danny DeKeyser - Jonathan Ericsson

Jakub Kindl - Alexey Marchenko

Goaltenders

Petr Mrazek (starter) - Jimmy Howard

Scratches: Joakim AnderssonBrendan Smith.

Injured: Johan Franzen (concussion), Brad Richards (back), Kyle Quincey (ankle), Landon Ferraro (knee)

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