When the Caps take on the Ottawa Senators tonight and try to halt their longest losing streak in more than three years, they’ll do so with a lineup that looks a bit different from the one that came home empty-handed from last week’s three-game Metropolitan Division road trip.
Goaltender Philipp Grubauer was reassigned to Hershey on Monday, easing Washington’s untenable three-goaltender logjam. That leaves the netminding chores to Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth.
Holtby will start tonight against the Senators, making his first start since Jan. 4. After starting 24 of Washington’s first 29 games this season, Holtby drew just three starts in the Caps’ last 18 games. He is 0-2 in two career outings against the Sens with a 3.56 GAA and a .909 save pct.
Neuvirth has started two of the Capitals’ last six games, his only two starts for Washington in the last two months.
With games on back-to-back nights looming just ahead (Friday at New Jersey and Saturday at Montreal) and with another set on the horizon next week (Thursday at Columbus and Friday at Detroit), there will be opportunities for both goaltenders to get some work in the very near future.
On the blueline, the Caps waived defenseman Steve Oleksy on Monday. Oleksy cleared waivers today and was reassigned to Hershey, a move which paved the way for Washington to recall defenseman Nate Schmidt from Hershey.
Expect Schmidt to get a sweater tonight and be paired with fellow rookie Connor Carrick while the other two blueline duos of Karl Alzner with John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov with Mike Green remain the same.
Up front, Caps captain Alex Ovechkin is ailing with a lower body injury. The team is terming his potential ability tonight as a “game-time decision.” The league’s leading goal scorer with 35 and its leading power-play goal getter with 13, Ovechkin missed the first two games of November with an upper body injury. The Caps won both of those games, starting a season-best four-game winning streak.
Now Washington is in a five-game losing spiral (0-3-2) in which it has scored just seven goals, with three of them coming off Ovechkin’s stick.
At Tuesday’s morning skate, here’s how Washington’s forwards lined up:
Marcus Johansson-Nicklas Backstrom-Troy Brouwer
Martin Erat-Brooks Laich-Joel Ward
Jason Chimera-Mikhail Grabovski-Eric Fehr
Aaron Volpatti-Jay Beagle-Tom Wilson
If Ovechkin is out that’s how they’ll look tonight against Ottawa.
Washington has won only two of its last 11 games (2-4-5) and it won only four of 15 games (4-6-5) during the span in which the team carried three goaltenders. Over the last 11 games, each of the other seven teams in the Metropolitan Division has gained at least five points on the Capitals, and most have gained a few more than that. The Caps enter tonight’s game in fifth place in the Metro, five points shy of the second place perch they’ve occupied for most of the season to date. They’re also just five points north of the resurgent-but-still-basement-dwelling New York Islanders.
The cold Caps are facing a third straight “hot” opponent. Columbus was 8-3 in its previous 11 games going into Friday’s 5-1 thumping of Washington and the Rangers ere 8-2-1 in their previous 11 heading into Sunday’s 4-1 victory over the Capitals. The Sens are 6-1-2 in their last nine games.
Ottawa is expected to go with Craig Anderson in goal. He is 10-5-1 with a 2.43 GAA and a .923 save pct. in 16 career appearances against the Capitals.
Veteran tough guy Chris Neil returned to the Senators’ lineup on Saturday against the Rangers; he was initially injured when the Caps and Sens last met in Ottawa on Dec. 30. Neil missed half a dozen games in the interim. He resumes pursuit of his 100th career goal tonight, among other things.