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#CapsHawks Skate Shavings: The Alzner 500

On Friday night against the Blackhawks, Caps defenseman Karl Alzner will reach a rare milestone.

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps / Monumental Sports Network

The Capitals have had their share of recent milestones. Nicklas Backstrom became the 10th Swedish-born player in the NHL to reach 500 assists on Saturday in Ottawa, and he is the only player in Washington's franchise history to amass 500 helpers with the Capitals. 

Alex Ovechkin recorded his 1,000th career NHL point on Wednesday against Pittsburgh, becoming the fourth Russian-born player and the 84th player in NHL history to do so. Like Backstrom, Ovechkin is the only player to achieve the entirety of his feat in a Washington uniform. 
Video: Tribute to Karl Alzner on 500 consecutive games
On Friday night against the Blackhawks, Caps defenseman Karl Alzner reaches a much more rare but just as remarkable milestone. Alzner will play in his 500th consecutive game against Chicago, becoming just the third NHL defenseman since the 1943-44 season to achieve that feat. 
Video: Alzner on his 500th consecutive game played tonight
"Sometimes you just get lucky," says Alzner. "I've gone through stretches where I haven't had any injuries at all for more than a hundred games. And then sometimes you get them back-to-back-to-back. Maybe it doesn't sound like a great answer, but honestly a lot of it is just having some good luck.

"I've been hit from behind and into the boards a bunch of times, and I've been okay. My shoulders have been fine. Whereas with some guys, it didn't work out that way. It's just good fortune right now." 

Alzner's streak started on Oct. 8, 2010 against the Thrashers in Atlanta, on opening night of the 2010-11 season. Bruce Boudreau was the Caps' head coach in those days, and it was the first game in a Washington uniform for both Matt Hendricks and Marcus Johansson. Tom Poti was paired with John Carlson, Mike Green with Jeff Schultz and Alzner with John Erskine on that night in Atlanta more than six years ago. 

Only four of Alzner's teammates that night are still in Washington: Backstrom, Ovechkin, Johansson and John Carlson. Alzner is one of 30 different defensemen deployed by the Capitals since the start of the 2010-11 season, but the only one who has suited up every night, and he'll do so for the 500th straight game on Friday.

Through those 500 games, Alzner has played through the flu, a handful of nagging injuries, and - last season - a broken thumb.

"It's hard to play through the flu," says Alzner. "It's not an injury but it sucks to play through the flu. So there have been times where I didn't really feel like I wanted to play, but you do it anyway. My broken thumb last year was pretty bad, and then a strained oblique [muscles] the day after that happened. That wasn't fun, but [John Carlson] was out at the time I think too, so you just find ways. There really is no secret to it. You just keep playing." 

Alzner reached 423 consecutive games played last Jan. 27, passing Bobby Carpenter (422) to set Washington's all-time franchise standard. His streak is both remarkable and impressive, and here's to hoping Alzner can push it forward for another 500 games. 

Video: Caps head coach Barry Trotz talks #CapsHawks

Aiming For Eight - Armed with a seven-game winning streak, their longest in more than a year, the Capitals seek to stretch that streak to eight on Friday night against the Chicago Blackhawks. 

Exactly nine weeks ago, the Capitals were in Chicago on a Friday night (Nov. 11) with a chance to break the Blackhawks' seven-game winning streak. Jay Beagle scored a pair of first-period goals for the Caps that night, and Washington nursed a 2-1 lead into the final minute of regulation, only to have Chicago's Marian Hossa tie the game at 2-2 with the extra attacker on the ice. 

Marcus Johansson's overtime game-winner put Washington in the win column and ended Chicago's streak. Now, nine weeks later, the Hawks have a chance to return the favor. It's the Capitals who are seeking to keep their seven-game winning streak going against a very formidable opponent on a Friday night at home. 

Even It Up - During the life of their current seven-game winning streak, the Capitals have outscored the opposition by a combined total of 29-11. At even strength, the Caps have outscored foes by a combined 25-6 in the last seven games. Washington has not surrendered an even-strength goal against in its last four games, since Jan. 3 against Toronto. 

"Everybody is on the same page," says Caps coach Barry Trotz, speaking of his team's recent success. "Everybody understands the balance between offense and defense and the balance of just being consistent in your game so everybody's on the same page. More than anything, we're just playing the right way. The right way is whatever situation presents itself, you just try to manage it correctly. 

"And we've got four lines that are contributing. A lot of that can be attributed to [Evgeny Kuznetsov's] line really starting to get rolling. We're a pretty hard team to check when all four lines are rolling."

First Things First - Washington has permitted the fewest first-period goals in the league this season, allowing just 17 goals in the first frame of its first 41 games. The Caps are fourth in the league in goals scored in the first, netting 38. Their plus-21 first-period goal differential is tied with Columbus for the best in the league.

Getting an early jump on opponents has been a significant part of the Caps' success this season. Washington has scored the game's first goal in five straight games and in 28 of 41 games this season. The Capitals lead the NHL in number of wins when scoring first (22) and winning pct. when scoring first (.786). 

In The Nets - Braden Holtby will start for the Capitals on Friday, making his seventh straight start. Philipp Grubauer earned the win in the first game of Washington's current winning streak on Dec. 31 in New Jersey, and he earned a relief win on Jan. 3 against Toronto. Aside from those two games, Holtby has been in the net for the rest of the seven-game winning run, and he is 5-0 with two shutouts, a 1.31 GAA and a .952 save pct. 

Holtby has not been reached for an even-strength goal in any of his last four starts. He spun shutouts against Columbus and Ottawa last week, and carried shutouts into the third period of his next two starts against Montreal and Pittsburgh, respectively. He allowed one power-play goal in the third period against the Canadiens and two extra-man tallies in the final frame against the Penguins. 

Lifetime against Chicago, Holtby is 5-2-0 with a 2.55 GAA and a .916 save pct.

Corey Crawford is expected to start for the Hawks. Crawford is 7-2-1 in his last 10 starts and he has not permitted more than three goals in any start since a 5-0 loss to the Oilers in Edmonton on Nov. 21. 

On the season, Crawford is 16-8-3 with a 2.35 GAA and a .925 save pct. Lifetime against the Capitals, he is 3-3-2 with a 3.26 GAA and an .890 save pct. 

All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Capitals and the Hawks to look when they take the ice on Friday at Verizon Center.

WASHINGTON

Forwards

8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie

90-Johansson, 92-Kuznetsov, 14-Williams

10-Connolly, 20-Eller, 65-Burakovsky

26-Winnik, 83-Beagle, 43-Wilson

Defensemen

27-Alzner, 74-Carlson

9-Orlov, 2-Niskanen

44-Orpik, 88-Schmidt

Goaltenders

70-Holtby

31-Grubauer

Injuries

None

Scratches

4-Chorney

CHICAGO

Forwards

48-Hinostroza, 19-Toews, 81-Hossa

72-Panarin, 15-Anisimov, 88-Kane

38-Hartman, 67-Kero, 14-Panik

11-Desjardins, 70-Rasmussen, 22-Tootoo

Defensemen

2-Keith, 4-Hjalmarsson

6-Kempny, 7-Seabrook

51-Campbell, 57-van Riemsdyk

Goaltenders

50-Crawford

33-Darling

Injuries

16-Kruger (upper body)

Scratches

32-Roszival

5-Warsofsky

Stick-tap to Carter Myers for some of the statistical data contained within.
 

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