The Washington Capitals are slowly headed in the right direction and will look to continue that trend against the Minnesota Wild on Friday night. This is the first game of a five-game homestand.
Here are the projected lines:
Alex Ovechkin – Dylan Strome – Tom Wilson
Sonny Milano – Evgeny Kuznetsov – T.J. Oshie
Connor McMichael – Nicklas Backstrom – Anthony Mantha
Beck Malenstyn – Aliaksei Protas – Matthew Phillips
Martin Fehervary – John Carlson
Rasmus Sandin – Trevor van Riemsdyk
Alex Alexeyev – Nick Jensen
Hardy Häman Aktell – Lucas Johansen
Rasmus Sandin’s availability for Friday’s contest is uncertain according to Capitals head coach Spencer Carbery. He was a full participant in the morning skate and skated on the second pair with Trevor van Riemsdyk. Charlie Lindgren will not dress despite taking part in the morning skate. Washington is still without Nic Dowd.
The Caps (2-3-1) are coming off their most exhilarating contest of the season, defeating the Devils 6-4. A game in which the Caps had a 3-0 lead, which was also the first time the Capitals played with a lead all season, and then were trailing 4-3 in the blink of an eye after the second period.
It was the second time in as many games that Washington allowed three or more goals in the middle frame.
“Second periods now are starting to become an issue for our group. We looked at a lot of the situations in that New Jersey game, our puck management at times was horrendous. And okay, so why is that different from the second? Well you have now a long change. Now we can’t get off the ice. Now we’re stuck,” Capitals head coach Spencer Carbery said after Friday’s morning skate. “A valuable lesson again, of what we need to do in second periods [with] our puck management, managing situations in different scenarios from the game. We need to do a better job in those. but again credit to our group for coming out the way they did in the third.”
The good news is that the offense is slowly starting to come alive. Anthony Mantha was the biggest story in the win against New Jersey, scoring his first goal of the season and also having the primary assist on Connor McMichael’s game-winning goal in the third.
“What I liked about his game is… there were a lot of little things. Habit things, some details inside of coverage,” Carbery said. “The production and the offensive component is absolutely important to his game, but also the other little things that he’s trying to integrate. I thought he did a really good job the other night.”
Meanwhile, Alex Ovechkin has goals in back-to-back games and five points (two goals, three assists) in his last five games. Dylan Strome has come up in clutch situations with four goals in his last three games.
Ovechkin and Strome have skated on the same line together for the past few games and have complimented each other very well.
“I think because Stromer is a very very intelligent puck-mover playmaker. What I mean by that is he’s very aware of where other people are on the ice, and so when he gets pucks whether it’s in the offensive zone or off the rush, he’s already sort of evaluated where defenders are and where his linemates are,” Carbery said. “I feel like he’s able to find [Ovechkin] in different spots and knows where to look for him and he already kind of sees where he’s going before he even gets the puck.”
Washington’s power play, which was 0-for-13 to start the year, has goals in back-to-back games. Ovechkin broke the man-advantage goalless drought with his 300th career power-play tally against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The man-advantage unit got its fair share of looks against New Jersey and converted on its second attempt early in the third period thanks to Strome.
The Wild’s penalty kill sits at 26th in the NHL at 72.7% so the Caps will look to carry the recent success of the power play into Friday’s affair.
The Wild (3-3-1) are coming off a 6-2 loss against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday.
Minnesota is dealing with some key injuries on the blue line and up front. The most notable being captain Jared Spurgeon, who has yet to play so far in the regular season. Meanwhile, the Wild will continue to be without 22-year-old forward Matt Boldy, who has missed the last five games.
Kirill Kaprizov is always a dangerous threat. The 26-year-old Russian is tied for the team lead with nine points (two goals, seven assists) and had three assists against the Edmonton Oilers on Oct. 24.
Marcus Johansson will make his return to D.C. after he was traded at last year’s trade deadline for draft picks.
Marc-Andre Fleury will be in between the pipes for Minnesota after Filip Gustavsson yielded all six goals in Philadelphia. Fleury is 1-1-0 with a 3.55 goals-against average and a .868 save percentage. He will match up against Darcy Kuemper.
Player To Watch
Joel Eriksson Ek leads the Wild with nine points (five goals, four assists) and has seven points in his last five games. He leads the Wild with five goals.
Washington will take on Minnesota at 7 p.m. at Capital One Arena. The game can be streamed on Monumental Sports Network.
By Jacob Cheris