The Capitals host the Blackhawks on Wednesday night in the fourth game of their season-long five game homestand. The game will be at 8 PM on NBC Sports Network.
The Blackhawks come to town for their lone visit to the nation’s capital on a one-game road trip. They lost to the Los Angeles Kings 3-1 on Sunday and have won just four of their past 10 games. The Blackhawks are currently one point behind the Vancouver Canucks for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
The Capitals have won five of their last six games and are coming off of a 4-1 win over the San Jose Sharks on Monday night. Washington will look to continue to climb in the standings as they’re tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. Both teams trail the division-leading Columbus Blue Jackets by just two points.
1. Star Wingers
Wednesday night’s matchup features two of the best wingers in the game: Alex Ovechkin of the Capitals and Patrick Kane of the Blackhawks.
Ovechkin scored his 20th goal of the season in Monday’s 4-1 win over San Jose. His goal — the eventual game-winner, moved him into 11th place on the NHL’s all-time game-winning goals list ahead of Mats Sundin with 97. He has a goal in five of his past six games since being put back on a line with Nicklas Backstrom, lighting the lamp seven times in that span. With his 577th career goal, he moved past Mark Recchi for the 20th most goals in NHL history. In 14 career games against Chicago, he has 8 goals and 13 points.
Patrick Kane leads the Blackhawks with 10 goals and 27 points through 27 games. There was some debate about whether he would be as dominant this season after seeing Artemi Panarin go to the Columbus Blue Jackets, but it’s clear that Kane doesn’t need Panarin to be a force each and every night. He has not gotten on the score sheet the past two games, but he’s too good a player for that to continue long. Lifetime against Washington, he has 3 goals, 7 points, and a -9 rating in 12 games.
2. Young Guns
Washington and Chicago have several young players as a result of their star-studded lineups and salary cap restrictions, but each boasts an impressive collection of talented rookies.
Alex DeBrincat is second on the Blackhawks with 10 goals and 19 points through 27 games. He won the Ontario Hockey League’s Most Outstanding Player of the Year last season after leading the league with 63 goals and 127 points while earning a +60 rating. He has been a force since coming to the NHL this year, scoring four points last Monday against Anaheim. The 19-year-old DeBrincat has lived up to the hype. He took line rushes with Nick Schmaltz and Lance Bouma in the Blackhawks’ practice on Tuesday.
The Caps’ Jakub Vrana is playing his first full season in the NHL and scored his 8th goal of the season on Monday against the Sharks. Vrana has scored four times in his past six games and has 12 points through 27 games this season. Vrana has had great chemistry with Evgeny Kuznetsov, who also has four goals since Vrana moved to Kuznetsov’s line six games ago.
Forward Travis Boyd made his NHL/Capitals debut on Monday against the Sharks after an impressive start with the AHL Hershey Bears this year.
3. Blackhawk Beaters
The Capitals have won 9 of their past 12 games against the Blackhawks and have won six straight home games against Chicago. Chicago has not beaten the Capitals in Washington since 2008.
Last season, the Capitals blew out the Blackhawks 6-0 on January 13 at Verizon Center and took a 3-2 overtime win in the Windy City on November 11 to sweep the season set with Chicago. The Blackhawks last beat the Capitals 3-2 on February 28, 2016.
Nicklas Backstrom has 4 goals and 10 points in 10 career games against the Blackhawks. Braden Holtby is 6-2-0 with a .927 save percentage and a 2.23 goals against average. He shutout the Blackhawks last season.
4. Injury Report
Capitals head coach Barry Trotz said that T.J. Oshie, who took a hit to the head from Sharks’ center Joe Thornton, is unlikely to face Chicago and is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. Oshie left last night’s game in the second period and did not return. Oshie has 10 goals and 23 points through 28 games this season. He did not practice with the Capitals this morning.
Andre Burakovsky is getting closer to returning from surgery on a fractured left thumb, practicing with the team Tuesday morning. While it’s unlikely he will play against Chicago, Trotz did not rule him out completely. Burakovsky has missed 19 games and has been out since October 21 against the Florida Panthers.
The Blackhawks will be without goaltender Corey Crawford. In 21 games this season, Crawford is 11-7-2 with a .930 save percentage and a 2.29 goals against average. He has missed the past three games with an undisclosed injury. The Blackhawks placed Crawford on injured reserve on Friday and recalled J.F. Berube from the Rockford Ice Hogs. Backup goaltender Anton Forsberg will likely start on Wednesday against Washington. He is 1-3-3 with a .914 save percentage and a 3.02 goals against average. He made 21 saves in Chicago’s 3-1 loss to Los Angeles on Sunday.
5. Reigning East and West Regular Season Champions Go Head-to-Head
The Blackhawks and Capitals were the best teams in their respective conferences last season.
Chicago was the best in the west with a 50-23-9 record, good for 109 points. They were ninth in the league with 244 goals for and gave up the 10th fewest goal at 213. That was good for a +31 goal differential.
Washington won the Presidents Trophy, going 55-19-8 for 120 points. They lead the league with 182 goals against while getting 263 of their own. They finished 3rd in that category.
The teams were both very strong last season but are now scrambling for playoff spots in their respective conferences. It should be a star-filled game with plenty of intensity.
By Harrison Brown