The Washington Capitals packed their bags and headed to Florida after Wednesday’s practice. On Thursday night they’ll be looking to avenge an October loss to the Florida Panthers. Puck drop is at 7:30 p.m. Prior to the game, the team held a morning skate at BB&T Arena. Here are the news and the notes form Thursday morning.
The Capitals game against the Panthers will be their last game before the All Star break. The NHL All Star game will be played in Tampa Bay with Alex Ovechkin, Braden Holtby and Barry Trotz representing the Capitals for the Metropolitan Division team. Tomorrow those three along with equipment staff and team staff will take a bus to Tampa. A majority of Capitals players will also remain in the sunshine state to enjoy time off from hockey, per Tom Gulitti of NHL.com.
The Capitals play at Florida tonight. Their all-star contingent — Ovechkin, Holtby, Trotz, equipment staff, team staff — will bus to Tampa tomorrow. A lot of players will stay in Florida for break. Flight back to DC after game tonight will have lots of empty seats.
— Tom Gulitti (@TomGulittiNHL) January 25, 2018
“For me personally, it’s awesome. I’d hate to be in Vegas like we were for Christmas time and then travel 3,000 miles to get somewhere,” Trotz told the media after Wednesday’s practice as far as the convenience of playing in the same state where the All Star game will be played at compared to being across the country.
As far as the line rushes on Thursday morning, everything looked the same. The one catch was on the fourth line. Alex Chiasson, Jakub Vrana and Devante Smith-Pelly were each rotating along the bottom forward line with Jay Beagle at center. Smith-Pelly remained on the ice for extra work which could indicate he’ll be the healthy scratch. Trotz said after the skate we’ll know the lines by the time the game starts.
If I had to bet, and I’m not going to place any bets on what the Capitals lines will be tonight: Vrana will he on the third line with Eller and Connolly, and Stephenson will be on the Beagle and Chiasson. But as Trotz said, we’ll have to watch the game to know.
— Jesse Dougherty (@dougherty_jesse) January 25, 2018
Holtby will get the start in goal for the Capitals. He carries a 24-9-2 record with a 2.68 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage. Both Panthers goaltenders, Roberto Luongo and James Reimer, are dealing with injury issues. They’ll go with their number three goalie, Harri Sateri. Thursday’s game will be Sateri’s fourth NHL game and second start. Sateri is still searching for his first career NHL win as he’s 0-2-0.
Another big storyline for tonight’s game is Alex Ovechkin being one assist away from his 500th. He came close on Sunday, setting up a great pass to Evgeny Kuznetsov in front of the goal but was stopped. During Wednesday’s practice, he worked more on his passes including passing the puck through a tire. Once he gets his 500th assist he’ll be the second Capital to reach the 500-assist mark, joining Nicklas Backstrom. Backstrom achieved the feat a year ago. We’ll see if tonight is the night.
THE MORNING LINES
Starting goalie: Braden Holtby
Scratches: Taylor Chorney (D), Forward Scratch: TBD
CAPS TODAY: The Caps prepare for the last matchup before the All Star break against the Florida Panthers, and Alex Ovechkin sits one assist shy of 500. https://t.co/YF8EoRtziy pic.twitter.com/mJQ4zFjdr2
— CapitalsPR (@CapitalsPR) January 25, 2018
- This season, the Capitals are 17-8-4 against the Eastern Conference, good for the fourth most points against the conference in the NHL (Boston: 40 points in 27 games; Columbus: 39 in 32; Tampa Bay: 39 in 28).
- Since the 2014-15 season, Washington’s 125-42-24 record and 274 points against the Eastern Conference leads the NHL, besting the second-place Montreal Canadiens by 12 wins and 28 points.
- 24 of the Capitals next 34 remaining games will be against an Eastern Conference opponent.
- Ovechkin sits one assist away from 500 career assists. Besides becoming the second player in franchise history to reach that mark (Nicklas Backstrom leads the Caps with 568 assists), Ovechkin would become one of 15 active players with 500 career assists and one of just four active players to reach at least 500 career goals and 500 career assists (Jaromir Jagr, Marian Hossa, Patrick Marleau).
- Ovechkin has 22 assists this season which is on pace for 38 assists. If Ovechkin reaches the 38-assist mark, it would be his highest total over the last seven seasons.
- Of Ovechkin’s 499 assists, 306 of them are primary assists.
- Nicklas Backstrom has recorded seven assists in his last nine games.
- Backstrom is three assists shy of passing Shane Doan and Frank Mahovlich to rank 100th all-time in NHL history.
By Michael Marzzacco