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Pregame primer: All eyes on Ovechkin's availability

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Pregame primer: All eyes on Ovechkin's availability

News, notes and quotes as the Capitals get ready to take on the San Jose Sharks tonight at Verizon Center (6:30 p.m. pregame, CSN):

Waiting on Ovi: The Capitals will know closer to pregame warmups whether captain Alex Ovechkin will be in the lineup. Ovechkin missed Tuesday morning’s pregame skate for what coach Barry Trotz called personal reasons.

If Ovechkin cannot play, look for Marcus Johansson to take his place on a top line with Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie, with rookie Stan Galiev possibly sliding onto the second line with Andre Burakovsky and Justin Williams. If Ovechkin can play, Galiev is likely to be a healthy scratch.

Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said his game plan won’t change if Ovechkin is out of the lineup.

“They’re a deep team,” he said. “Obviously, with him in you have to pay special attention to him. On the power play he’s key. But even if he’s not in we can’t take a deep breath and relax. That’s a very deep team offensively over there. I’m not hoping that he’s out, but (if he is) we still have to respect the fact they have a lot of other weapons over there.”

Special teams: The Caps went 2-for-5 on the power play in their season-opening 5-3 win over the New Jersey Devils, while the Sharks are a perfect 7-for-7 on the penalty kill. DeBoer devoted time to the PK at Tuesday morning’s practice, placing himself in Ovechkin’s and Oshie’s favorite shooting spots.

“Everybody knows what they’re going to do but everybody has trouble stopping it,” DeBoer said. “(Joel Ward) has given us some insight into some of their tendencies, but for us it’s just making sure we stay out of the box. I think that’s the best recipe to kill it.”

The Sharks are 2-for-9 on the power play, while the Caps are 2-for-3 on the penalty kill, with a shorthanded goal.

Ovi closing in on 900: Alex Ovechkin (476 goals, 421 assists) is three points shy of hitting 900. Since entering the NHL in 2005-06, Ovechkin has posted 135 more goals and 44 more points than any other player. Only four players have scored more goals than Ovechkin’s 475 in their first 10 seasons -- Wayne Gretzky, Mike Bossy, Mario Lemieux and Brett Hull. Ovechkin ranks first in franchise history in goals (476), points (897), power-play goals (176), game-winning goals (80), overtime goals (15), shots (3,834) and multi-goal games (100).

400 for Carly: Tonight will mark John Carlson’s 400th game as a Capital and his 380th consecutive game. That’s the second-longest consecutive games played streak in Capitals history, trailing only Bob Carpenter (422).

Remember me? The last time the Caps and Sharks met on Feb. 11 in San Jose, guess who scored the game-winning goal in overtime? Yep, Joel Ward. The Caps won 5-4.

Bearded ones: Sharks defenseman Brent Burns, 30, owns one of the best beards in the NHL and now Joe Thornton is looking to replicate it. Thornton, 36, is beginning his 17th NHL season and 10th with the Sharks.

[RELATED: Ovechkin a game-time decision for Tuesday's game]

Tonight’s projected lineups:

CAPITALS

Forward lines

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie

Marcus Johansson - Andre Burakovsky - Justin Williams

Jason Chimera - Jay Beagle - Tom Wilson

Brooks Laich - Michael Latta - Sean Collins

Defense pairings

Brooks Orpik - John Carlson

Matt Niskanen - Karl Alzner

Nate Schmidt - Dmitry Orlov

Goaltenders

Braden Holtby - Philipp Grubauer

Injured: Nicklas Backstrom (hip), Chris Brown (hand)

Projected scratches: Stanislav GalievTaylor Chorney

SHARKS

Forward lines

Joonas Donskoi - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski

Patrick Marleau - Logan Couture - Joel Ward

Matt Nieto - Tomas Hertl - Tommy Wingels

Barclay Goodrow - Chris Tierney - Mike Brown

Defense pairings

Paul Martin - Brent Burns

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Justin Braun

Brenden Dillon - Matt Tennyson

Goaltenders

Martin Jones - Alex Stalock

Injured: None

Projected scratches: Dylan DeMeloBen Smith

 

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What is a back-up goalie’s job during a game?

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USA TODAY

What is a back-up goalie’s job during a game?

At the end of every bench in the NHL is a goalie sitting in full pads and a hat. What is his job during the game?

Friday’s game between the Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers was one of the rare games that featured four goalies. Braden Holtby and James Reimer started, but both were ultimately pulled in what was a high-scoring affair. In stepped Pheonix Copley and Michael Hutchinson.

And yet, despite being little more than an afterthought in the team’s preparation for the game, both Copley (one goal allowed on 19 shots, .947 save percentage) and Hutchinson (one goal allowed on 11 shots, .909 save percentage) stepped in and out-performed the starters giving both of their respective teams a chance to win the game.

“It's easier in some aspects,” Holtby said of coming into a game off the bench, something he has done at various points of his career despite being the primary starter for Washington. “I think that's why you see a lot of guys go in and have success right away and have good games because you don't have that day or two days to be getting rid of your thoughts and that kind of thing.”

At the end of every bench in the NHL is a goalie sitting in full pads and a hat. Every team dresses two goalies on the roster for a game. One starts and one sits on the bench as the backup in case he is needed because of injury or because a coach chooses to make a goalie switch. That backup is tasked with being ready at all times to step into the game knowing full well that, if all goes according to plan, he will not get to play at all.

Holtby and Reimer had prepared for Friday’s game knowing they were going to start. Both players took warmups in order to prepare them to play a full game while Copley and Hutchinson had little reason to think they would see any action at all.

By the end of the second period, however, both Holtby and Reimer had been replaced. Copley at least had an intermission to prepare as he came on at the start of the second period while Hutchinson had to step in midway through the second period.

“I guess it can be a little challenging,” Copley said, “But I feel like as long as you’re kind of paying attention to the game and your mind's kind of in that hockey mindset then if something happens, I'll be ready to go.”

Professional athletes are creatures of habit. To have to step into a game unexpectedly with little to no warning or preparation and be expected to perform at the highest level is an incredibly tough mental challenge.

And yet, in many ways, it can be easier than starting.

“The whole thing about mental preparation is so that you go out there not thinking about anything, not worrying about any of that,” Holtby said. “When you're forced in with a matter of 30 seconds, there's no time to think about anything. You just go in and play.”

For goalies, not starting does not mean having the night off. Both coaches and teammates alike can lean upon a backup netminder as an extra set of eyes.

“Sometimes they'll ask a question like did it look like I had room there?” Copley said. “Was it a shot or missed? Did you see what happened on this play? So I just try to be there and watch.”

Some coaches even give goalies assignments in game, though that practice seems to be on the decline.

“I know [Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock] makes them look at faceoffs or something,” Holtby said. “It's pretty archaic. There's guys that do that now that are better than the backup goalie at looking at things.”

In truth, there is no defined in-game requirements for most goalies in the NHL when they sit as backups and that is true of the Caps’ tandem. That makes the job of a backup a very simple one.

“I just try and be ready if I have to go in,” Copley said. “Make sure I'm physically and mentally ready and be a good teammate.”

Holtby put it even more succinctly as he said, “Don't do anything stupid.”

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Did the Capitals solve their depth scoring issues in Friday's loss?

Did the Capitals solve their depth scoring issues in Friday's loss?

Friday’s loss to the Florida Panthers was disappointing in a number of ways for the Capitals, but some good may yet come from it with the emergence of the third line.

A poor performance in the opening frame led to Todd Reirden switching up his lines to start the second. No change had a greater effect than the addition of Jakub Vrana to the third line in place of Andre Burakovsky to play with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly.

The move yielded instant results.

Connolly scored his first goal of the season less than two minutes into the period and added an assist. Vrana also recorded a goal and an assist, while Eller had a three-point night with three assists.

“It was just to make something happen,” Eller said, “Not that [Burakovsky] did something wrong, but just to make something happen and it worked. We kept riding the wave from there on and got two in that period. That seemed to work so that was positive.”

Vrana, Eller and Connolly were three players who had been playing well for the Caps, but were just not producing.

Heading into Friday’s game, Vrana and Eller both had only one point apiece on the season. Connolly had four, but three of those points came earlier in the season while he was skating on the team’s top line.

Friday was his first goal of the season.

“It’s good to get a goal,” Connolly said. “Getting some assists and all that and being a factor on some goals, but it’s nice to see one go in. I’ve had a lot of chances to start the year, thought I’ve been playing well. Lot more shots, lot more chances than I had last year and throughout the last two seasons per game. So I feel I’m ahead of the game right now in terms of that.”

Depth scoring has been a major weakness for the Caps so far in the early season. Washington had gotten only two bottom six goals prior to Friday’s game, and both came in the team’s blowout win over Boston in the opener.

They needed a spark to get offense from the bottom six, and they just may have found it on Friday with that third line combination.

Don’t be surprised to see that Vrana-Eller-Connolly trio stick together in Vancouver for the Caps’ next game against the Canucks.

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