After a strong effort in Detroit Wednesday night the Caps (12-4-1, 25 points) are back at Verizon Center tonight (6:30 pregame, CSN) to take on the red-hot Dallas Stars (15-4-0, 30 points). Here are our AAA Keys to the Game:
Grubauer between the pipes: After playing in a warm Joe Louis Arena that goaltender Braden Holtby described as a sauna, backup Philipp Grubauer (2-0-1, 2.59 GAA, .899) will get the call for the Caps, who are looking to build on a 6-2-1 home record.
“Grubauer’s undefeated, so it’ll work,” Trotz said two hours before puck drop. “They’re both big parts to the team. There’s no need (for Holtby) to go back-to-back when we’re playing every other night.”
This will be Grubauer’s first career game against the Stars. He’s expected to face Kari Lehtonen (8-1-0, 2.38, .921). Lehtonen has a career mark of 15-6-2 against the Caps with a 2.58 GAA and .923 SP.
No Orpik: Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik will miss his fourth straight game with a lower body injury. Trotz has repeatedly said Orpik is “close” to returning to the lineup. His next chance will be Saturday night when the Colorado Avalanche visit the Phone Booth.
Without Orpik, Nate Schmidt will remain on a top pairing with John Carlson, while Taylor Chorney will continue playing on a third defense pairing with Dmitry Orlov.
Late night: The Capitals did not arrive back in D.C. until the early morning hours of Thursday, while the Stars were already tucked into their hotel rooms, having last played Tuesday night in Buffalo, a 3-1 win.
Trotz said the late night, along with the warm building in Detroit, will make tonight’s game a greater test for his players.
“I thought Scotty (Bowman) was still in the building heating up the (locker) rooms,” Trotz said. “Guys need to make sure they get the fluids back in them. Back-to-backs are a test but it’s not an excuse.
“We’ve just got to come out and play and be mentally strong against a team that’s very strong offensively and playing well defensively. They’ve got two strong goaltenders (Antti Niemi and Lehtonen), the No. 1 power play (actually second at 29.3 percent) and they’ve got (Jamie) Benn (12-14-26) and (Tyler) Seguin, (10-17-27) who are just dynamic. They’re probably the best 1-2 punch in the league right now in terms of production.”
Run and gun hockey?: The Stars are the NHL’s top-scoring team, averaging 3.58 goals per game. The Caps rank fifth, averaging 3.00 goals per game.
But both teams have done a good job of keeping the puck out of their net. The Caps rank fifth in the NHL in goal allowed per game (2.24), while the Stars rank 14th (2.53).
“They play a fast game,” said Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen, who was a first-round draft pick (28th overall) of the Stars in 2005 and played his first four NHL seasons in Dallas. “If you turn the puck over they’ll kill you.”
While Niskanen faces the team that drafted him, Stars center Cody Eakin is facing the team that drafted him in the third round of the 2009 NHL draft (85th overall). Eakin was dealt from the Caps to the Stars along with a second-round draft pick for Mike Ribeiro in 2012. In 19 games this season he has five goals and two assists.
Historically speaking: The Stars have won seven straight games against the Capitals and are 4-0-0 in their last four visits to Verizon Center, where they are 8-2-1 in their last 11 visits.
Tonight’s game will feature two of the winningest coaches in NHL history. Stars coach Lindy Ruff is eighth on the all-time wins list with 667, five behind Mike Keenan, while Trotz ranks 12th at 614, three behind Jacques Lemaire.
Here are tonight’s projected lineups:
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
Nate Schmidt - John Carlson
Matt Niskanen - Karl Alzner
Dmitry Orlov - Taylor Chorney
Philipp Grubauer (starter) - Braden Holtby
Injured: Brooks Orpik (lower body)
Scratches: Stanislav Galiev
Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Patrick Sharp
Antoine Roussel - Cody Eakin - Valeri Nichushkin
Mattias Janmark - Jason Spezza - Patrick Eaves
Colton Sceviour - Vernon Fiddler - Ales Hemsky
Alex Goligoski - John Klingberg
Johnny Oduya - Jason Demers
Jyrki Jokipakka - Jordie Benn
Kari Lehtonen (starter) - Antti Niemi
Scratches: Jamie Oleksiak, Travis Moen