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Yule Shoot Your Eye Out: Blackhawks vs. Capitals Preview

Chicago is back on the ice after Monday’s COVID-related postponement.

Washington Capitals v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

The Chicago Blackhawks return to game action on Wednesday night at the United Center with the Washington Capitals in town for the second and final game between the two teams this season.

Chicago and Washington played two weeks ago in our nation’s capital, with the Blackhawks taking both points in 4-3 shootout victory. It’s been an up-and-down stretch for the Capitals since then, although they have won three of their last four games. Two of those required a shootout, though, including a 3-2 shootout win over the lowly Buffalo Sabres last Saturday in Washington’s most recent game. The Capitals were off the last three days — and not due to any COVID-related postponements — so the roster should be well-rested for this game.

But Washington has had a slew of roster absences lately. Tom Wilson remains sidelined after being injured last Friday. Nic Dowd and old friend Trevor van Riemsdyk have been in COVID protocol — although they were back at practice earlier this week. Garnet Hathaway remains in the protocol. There is some positive news for the Capitals, though: Nicklas Backstrom could make his season debut on Wednesday night.

Not that this team needed any more offensive firepower, of course. Evgeny Kuznetsov is over a point-per-game pace with 30 (9 G, 21 A) in 28 games while Alex Ovechkin continues to make his case for being the best goal-scorer in NHL history — if he isn’t already — with 20 goals in 28 games. Ovechkin also has 24 points for a cartoonish 44 points that only trails the Edmonton duo of Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid for the league lead. Those two have 45 points and are 26 and 24 years old, respectively. Ovechkin is 36.

[UPDATE] Scratch Kuznetosov from the lineup for Washington:

Ilya Samsonov will be Washington’s starting goalie, as his numbers this season have been decent: 11-2-1, .915 save percentage and 2.47 goals-against average. Vitek Vanecek, who’s splitting the goalie platoon with Samsonov, has a less successful record (5-3-5) but similar numbers otherwise (.908 and 2.51). Washington remains atop the Metropolitan Division and is just two points shy of the Toronto Maple Leafs for the No. 1 spot in the entire league, and that’s without the aforementioned Backstrom, who could skate this evening. That’s all to say: this won’t be an easy night for the Blackhawks.

But, as mentioned at the top, Chicago did beat Washington a few weeks ago as part of the 9-6 record the team has amassed in the Derek King era. The Blackhawks have found success by committing to a defense-first scheme that has limited chances, shots and goals against even if its offense has been largely sputtering. In hopes of kickstarting it, Dylan Strome is back on the top line, flanked by Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane, while Jonathan Toews has Brandon Hagel and recently promoted Brett Connolly on his wings. The top nine is rounded out by Kirby Dach centering Dominik Kubalik and Philipp Kurashev, giving Chicago three forward lines that should be able to offer some offensive punch. And it’s one they’ll need against Washington.

Marc-Andre Fleury starts in net while the D pairings ahead of him will remain a bit of a mystery, per King after the morning skate:

Considering the news that just dropped related to the ongoing COVID outbreak within the Nashville Predators organization, Friday’s Blackhawks game against those Predators may be in peril. With several days off before this game and potentially two more after it, Chicago’s skaters should be firing on all cylinders this evening.

At least, that’s the hope.

Blackhawks — Statistic — Capitals

46.89% (26th) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 51.42% (10th)

45.91% (30th) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 52.22% (9th)

2.19 (29th) — Goals per game — 3.39 (5th)

3.19 (22nd) — Goals against per game — 2.50 (5th)

48.6% (21st) — Faceoffs — 46.2% (29th)

17.1% (24th) — Power play — 16.5% (27th)

79.7% (18th) — Penalty kill — 83.3% (7th)

Projected lineups (subject to change)

Blackhawks

DeBrincat — Strome — Kane

Hagel — Toews — Connolly

Kubalik — Dach — Kurashev

Entwistle — Carpenter — Slavin

de Haan — S. Jones

C. Jones — Murphy

Stillman/McCabe/Gustafsson

Fleury

Lankinen

Capitals

Ovechkin — Kuznetsov — Protas

Sheary — Backstrom(?) — Oshie

McMichael — Eller — Sprong

Hagelin — Dowd — Malenstyn

Fehervary — Carlson

Orlov — Jensen

van Riemsdyk — Schultz

Samsonov

Vanecek

How to watch

When: 7 p.m. CT

Where: United Center, Chicago

TV: NBC Sports Chicago

Webstream: ESPN+