The Capitals (19-5-2, 40 points) visit the Florida Panthers (13-11-4, 30 points) tonight at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla. (CSN pregame 7 p.m.). Here are our AAA Keys to the Game:
What can Brown do for you: On each of his fathers’ trips coach Barry Trotz likes to give every player a chance to play in front of his father and tonight Chris Brown will make his season debut on a fourth line with center Michael Latta and left wing Brooks Laich. Brown injured his hand in a preseason game and missed the first month of the season. He had one goal in five games with the Caps last season. That will leave Andre Burakovsky and Stan Galiev as healthy scratches, along with defenseman Aaron Ness. All three could get into the lineup Saturday night in Tampa.
Grubi’s turn: Philipp Grubauer (2-1-1, 2.70 GAA, .900 save percentage) will make his first start in three weeks. Grubauer stopped 26 of 27 shots in the Caps’ last visit to Sunrise on Halloween night, a 2-1 overtime victory sealed by Evgeny Kuznetsov’s goal in extra time. The Panthers will turn to Al Montoya, who will make his first start since Dec. 4. Montoya is 3-1-1 with a 2.09 GAA and .926 save percentage for the Panthers. His overtime loss came to Grubauer and the Capitals on Oct. 31.
Trending: The Metropolitan Division-leading Caps have gained at least a point in eight straight games (7-0-1) and can extend their one-point lead over the Rangers with a win tonight. The Caps have three games in hand on the Rangers. The Panthers followed a five-game win streak with consecutive 4-2 losses to the Devils and Senators.
Nicky on 600: Caps center Nicklas Backsrom has two goals and five assists during a six-game point streak. He played I n his 600th NHL game on Tuesday.
“It’s nice,” he said. “It’s gone so fast though. When I thought about it yesterday it was like, ‘I’m at 600 already. It’s gone quick. I guess you have to enjoy every moment even more now so it doesn’t end that quick.”
Fun in the sun: The Caps have earned a point in 14 consecutive games against the Panthers (12-0-2) and are 22-4-3 against the Panthers since the start of the 2009-10 season. The Caps have outscored the Panthers 105-65 in that span. Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin has recorded 69 points (32 goals, 37 assists) in 53 career games against Florida, marking the fourth-most points he has registered against an NHL franchise (Winnipeg: 85, Tampa Bay: 77, Carolina: 74). Backstrom has 43 points (9 goals, 34 assists) in 40 career games against the Panthers, marking the third-most points he has earned against an NHL team (Carolina: 49, Tampa Bay: 44). Brooks Laich has earned more points against Florida (30) than any other NHL franchise.
Taming the Panthers: Trotz described the Panthers’ top line of left wing Jonathan Huberdeau, center Aleksander Barkov and right wing Jaromir Jagr as a “heavy, puck protection” line, and their second line of Brandon Pirri, Vincent Trocheck and Reilly Smith as “scooters who can wheel and deal.” Florida’s third and fourth line are anchored by “hard” centers Derek MacKenzie and Dave Bolland.
Jagr has 90 points in 78 career games against the Capitals. In parts of three seasons in Washington (2001-04) he recorded 201 points in 190 games (83 goals, 118 assists).
Road warriors: The Caps are an impressive 8-2-1 on the road this season, while the Panthers are 6-6-2 at home. The Panthers are 11-3-2 when scoring first and 8-2-0 when leading after the first period. The Caps are 13-1-0 when scoring first and 6-4-2 when allowing the first goal.
Special teams: The Caps rank third in the NHL on the power play (25.3 percent) and sixth on the penalty kill (84.1). The Panthers rank 12th on the power play (19.4) and 18th on the kill (79.8).
Shootout prowess: The Caps are 3-for-6 in shootout attempt this season, with Alex Ovechkin (1-for-1), Evgeny Kuznetsov (1-for-2), T.J. Oshie (1-for-2) and Nicklas Backstrom (0-for-1). Braden Holtby (2-0) has stopped all six shots he’s faced in shootouts.
Do it for Dad: The Caps are conducting their eighth annual mentors’ trip. Since 2008, the Capitals have posted a 9-4-0 record with their mentors in attendance.
Atlantic dominance: The Caps are an incredible 22-1-3 in their last 26 games against Atlantic Division foes.
Here is a look at projected lineups:
Injured: Brooks Orpik (lower body)
Scratches: Shawn Thornton