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Caps look to outshoot surging Stars

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Caps look to outshoot surging Stars

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:

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

Goaltenders
Philipp Grubauer (starter) - Braden Holtby
Injured: Brooks Orpik (lower body)
Scratches: Stanislav Galiev

STARS
Forward lines
Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Patrick Sharp
Antoine Roussel - Cody Eakin - Valeri Nichushkin
Mattias Janmark - Jason Spezza - Patrick Eaves
Colton Sceviour - Vernon Fiddler - Ales Hemsky

Defense pairs
Alex Goligoski - John Klingberg
Johnny Oduya - Jason Demers
Jyrki Jokipakka - Jordie Benn

Goaltenders
Kari Lehtonen (starter) - Antti Niemi
Injured: None
Scratches: Jamie Oleksiak, Travis Moen

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Jonas Siegenthaler earns first NHL point and plays like he belongs in win over Carolina

Jonas Siegenthaler earns first NHL point and plays like he belongs in win over Carolina

The Capitals released the unfortunate news on Friday that defenseman Christian Djoos is out indefinitely after undergoing a surgical procedure in his left thigh. It is rare that a team can lose one of its top-six defensemen and not miss a beat, but if Friday’s game is any indication, the Caps will be just fine with keeping Jonas Siegenthaler in the lineup.

“He’s got a pretty calm mentality and I think he’s found ways to ramp it up a bit to play in the NHL level,” Braden Holtby told reporters Friday. “It’s a good quality to have.”

Siegenthaler turned in another strong performance in Friday’s win over the Carolina Hurricanes, just the sixth NHL game of his career. He also recorded his first career point, a primary assist on Alex Ovechkin’s first goal.

The rookie defenseman grabbed the puck at the blue line in the first period and skated in. Ovechkin turned his body to face Siegenthaler and held his stick up waiting for the one-timer. Siegenthaler fed him the puck which Ovechkin rocketed past goalie Scott Darling.

Ovechkin made sure to grab the puck as a keepsake for the rookie on his first point.

The assist was Siegenthaler’s only point of the night, but he was also instrumental in setting up Ovechkin’s second goal of the game.

Ovechkin held the puck near the blue line, closely guarded by defenseman Dougie Hamilton. Siegenthaler crossed in front of Ovechkin and knocked into Hamilton which opened up plenty of space for Ovechkin to make a play.

To be fair, the call could have easily been called for interference and Carolina head coach Rod Brind’Amour voiced his displeasure to the referees over the no-call on the bench. At best it was a pick play, but considering the erroneous holding penalty Ovechkin was called for earlier in the second which resulted in a goal for the Hurricanes, things certainly leveled out.

Siegenthaler’s play on Ovechkin’s second goal was notable because that is more of the type of impact you can expect to see from him. He is a physical presence on the ice and he’s not afraid to show it despite only being a rookie. Just as importantly, however, is that he also is not reckless with it.

Young, physical players can often make the mistake of being too timid when they enter the NHL, thus negating a strength of their game, or they can be reckless with throwing their body around leading to mistakes such as taking bad penalties or playing out of position to make a hit. Siegenthaler has done neither since getting recalled and his steady demeanor on the blue line certainly has caught the attention of his netminder.

“He doesn’t panic or anything and he’s making quicker plays now too,” Holtby said. “He’s got an NHL talent, that’s for sure. He’s still extremely young and the way he’s playing, he’s going to be a really good D-man. He’s already there. He’s filled in really well.”

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Another Ovechkin hat trick, another Capitals win

Another Ovechkin hat trick, another Capitals win

This is getting a little silly. 

Alex Ovechkin, at age 33, matched the longest point-scoring streak of his career and recorded his second hat trick in a row. What else is there to say? 

The Capitals beat the Carolina Hurricanes 6-5 in a shootout in Raleigh on Friday night. They rallied from 4-1 down to beat a Metropolitan Division rival and have now won 12 of their past 15 games. They’re rolling. 

But all you can talk about after these games is Ovechkin, who now has 28 goals in 31 games to lead the NHL. He’ll cool off eventually. But there’s no sign of that happening any time soon. Ovechkin has a five-goal lead over Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine. He is seventh overall in points with 42. 

Ovechkin is the 18th different player since 1943-44 to score at least 28 goals in his team's first 31 games, and third to do so since 1993-94. The others: Jaromir Jagr in 1995-96 (28 goals) and 1996-97 (30 goals) and Mario Lemieux in 1995-96 (29 goals). 

Only 14 players have recorded consecutive hat tricks multiple times. Ovechkin is now one of them. He leads all active players with 22 hat tricks and just tied Teemu Selanne for 11th all time. 

Ovechkin would tie Bengt Gustafsson for fifth-longest point streak in team history if he has a point in Saturday’s game against Buffalo. The numbers almost become numbing.

He’s leading the way for a team five points clear of second-place Columbus in the Metropolitan Division. The Caps are also seven ahead of third-place Pittsburgh. But Ovechkin isn’t the only reason. 

On a night where Braden Holtby struggled, including the gaffe behind the net trying a clear that led to Carolina tying the game at 13:48 of the third period in a 5-4 game, others produced. Tom Wilson scored again. His goal at 12:37 of the second period started the comeback from 4-1 down.

Give the fourth line credit. The trio of Nic Dowd, Travis Boyd and Dmitrij Jaskin is a factor almost every night. They played their fourth game together in a row and Boyd tipped home the goal that cut the deficit to 4-3. In this stretch Dowd has five assists, including three against the Hurricanes. Boyd has five points (three goals, two assists) and Jaskin is the physical moral compass of the line. He has a goal and an assist. Overall, Dowd has 10 points in his past 10 games (three goals, seven assists).

John Carlson also had three assists, including the primary on Boyd’s goal and then Ovechkin’s power-play goal at 9:49 of the third period. He’s up to 35 points (five goals, 30 assists) and well on his way to passing last year’s career-best 68. He is again quietly tied with Ottawa’s Thomas Chabot for most points by a defenseman this season.   

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