Caps captain Alex Ovechkin enters the game with 698 goals in his 1,137-game NHL career, two shy of becoming just the eighth player in the NHL's 103-year history to reach the hallowed 700-goal plateau. Ovechkin has 143 career multi-goal games, so from strictly a numbers standpoint, he delivers a multi-goal game 12.6 percent of the time.
Recently, Ovechkin has been off the scales hot, even by his own well-established standards. He has had five multi-goal games - including three hat tricks - in his last seven games. He scored eight goals in three games going into the All-Star break late last month, then sat out his NHL-mandated one-game suspension for opting out of the All-Star festivities.
Tanned and rested after his enforced one-game vacation, Ovechkin has six goals in four games since, and he has skated 23 minutes or more in three of those four contests. With 14 goals in his last seven games, the 34-year-old winger is on a heater like none he has had previously.
"It's just such a special thing," says Caps right wing T.J. Oshie, "and I think we all agree that he is going to move on and probably reach different numbers. But 700 is a pretty amazing amount of goals. As teammates, we want to support him and try to help get him there, and to hopefully do it at home."
Video: Pregame | February 8
Take A Good Look - Earlier this week, the Caps called up 20-year-old defenseman Martin Fehervary from AHL Hershey, and they plugged him into their lineup on Tuesday night against Los Angeles, scratching Jonas Siegenthaler, who had played in each of the team's first 53 games this season. Fehervary skated 19:55, was a plus-2, and had four hits and two blocked shots against the Kings. He was returned to Hershey the following day, mainly because the Caps were off until tonight and wanted to bank the salary cap space with the NHL's trade deadline just over two weeks away.
On Saturday morning, the Caps recalled Fehervary again, and again they'll scratch a defenseman who has played every game this season to fit him into the lineup. Tonight, Nick Jensen will sit out after suiting up for each of Washington's first 54 games of 2019-20, and Fehervary will play alongside Dmitry Orlov.
"We wanted to get Martin in again after his game the other day, and how his season has gone," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "It's just how we had to work things in terms of sending him down and then bringing him back. But we want to see him again, so tonight we'll see him playing alongside Orlov."
Both Orlov and Fehervary are left-handed shots, while Jensen is right-handed, so the pairing will be imbalanced, with Orlov likely to spend most of the night on the right. But both Orlov and Fehervary are comfortable playing on their "off" sides,
"I think you'll see Orlov the majority of time on the right," says Reirden. "But with our system and how things go, a lot of times they'll end up on either side, just with motion and movement and in the offensive zone, or going back for a rush; sometimes you end up on opposite sides. But Martin has been doing that in Hershey and preparing for this spot, and obviously Orlov we've seen a number of times in that spot. So we'll take a look at that combination tonight."
In taking Siegenthaler out for Tuesday's tilt, the Caps removed their most frequently deployed penalty-killing defenseman. Siegenthaler averages 3:09 worth of shorthanded ice time per night - 15th among all blueliners in the league - for the NHL's second-ranked penalty killing outfit. The Caps were only shorthanded for four minutes in Tuesday's game, and Fehervary was in the box himself for half of that time, and he logged 52 seconds worth of shorthanded time on the Caps' other penalty killing mission of the evening.
Video: Reirden Pregame | February 8
Tonight, Jensen will sit out for the first time since coming to Washington in a trade with the Red Wings a year ago this month. He had skated in 74 straight games with the Capitals, and his average of 2:18 in shorthanded ice time is third on the team. Jensen has been on the ice for only five goals against while on the penalty kill this season, the fewest of any player in the league among those with 120 or more minutes of shorthanded ice time.
Sometime To Return - Saturday night's game marks the return of Matt Niskanen to Washington for the first time since the June 14 trade that sent him to Philadelphia in exchange for defenseman Radko Gudas. Niskanen patrolled the Caps' blueline for the previous half decade, filling a top four role and playing on both special teams, and he was a crucial cog in the team's drive to its first Stanley Cup championship in the spring of 2018.
The trade has worked out well for both teams, as the Caps freed up the salary cap space they would need to extend Nicklas Backstrom's contract as well as adding a rugged and capable defender in Gudas. Philly got a veteran with a Cup ring who has more offensive flair and is playing four more minutes a night - two at even strength and two on the power play - than Gudas logged for Philly last season.
Gudas has been back to Philly twice already, but this is Niskanen and the Flyers' first trip into D.C. this season. In advance of what is certain to be a stirring tribute/welcome back video in the first period of Saturday's game, Backstrom expressed some strong sentiments toward his former teammate on our Break The Ice podcast, referring to the team's run to the Cup two springs ago:
"Obviously we had guys like [Evgeny Kuznetsov] and Ovi that were outstanding in the playoffs," says Backstrom, "but look at a guy like Matt Niskanen. People never talk about him. He was so important for us. He played, what, 25 minutes every night, eating shots, blocking shots like crazy, penalty kill. He always made a tape-to-tape pass. Stuff like that, it matters."
Niskanen and Brooks Orpik came to the Caps vis free agency in the summer of 2014. The Caps were 21st in the league in goals against the season before their arrival, and they missed the playoffs that season (2013-14), the only time they've missed since 2007. In Niskanen's first season in Washington, the Caps climbed all the way to seventh in the league in goals against.
"He was a great role model for a lot of our defensemen in terms of how he practices - the habits, the systems, the details," says Reirden, who also coached Niskanen during his years in Pittsburgh. "He made my job a lot easier coming in, in terms of having a live example of how to do things properly, and obviously in conjunction with Brooks [Orpik] coming in as well.
"To me, if you look at the change in our numbers defensively from the year before that to that year, I think it's pretty unmatched if you look at teams in terms of the improvement of one year and the difference that they made. It will be good to have him recognized by the fans. He's a fan favorite, and just a true pro."
Video: Two-Man Advantage | February 8
In The Nets - Three nights after notching his 20th win of the season in a 29-save performance against Los Angeles, Braden Holtby gets the net against the Flyers. Holtby is seeking to string together consecutive victories for the first time in just over two months, since he authored back-to-back road triumphs at San Jose on Dec. 3 and at Anaheim on Dec. 6.
Lifetime against Philadelphia, Holtby is 13-5-8 with a couple of shutouts, a 2.42 GAA and a .919 save pct. in 27 appearances.
For the Flyers, veteran Brian Elliott gets the net against Washington. He was pulled in the third period of his most recent start on Thursday against the Devils after yielding four goals on 17 shots in 44 minutes of work. That game aside, Elliott has been extremely sharp of late, while sophomore phenom Carter Hart has been sidelined with an abdominal ailment.
Over his last six starts, Elliott is 4-1-1 with two shutouts, a 2.07 GAA and a .914 save pct. Lifetime against the Capitals, he is 8-7-0 with a 3.23 GAA and an .891 save pct. in 17 appearances.
All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Capitals and the Flyers to look on Saturday night in the District when Philly makes the first of its two visits to Capital One Arena this season:
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
13-Vrana, 92-Kuznetsov, 43-Wilson
62-Hagelin, 20-Eller, 14-Panik
28-Leipsic, 26-Dowd, 21-Hathaway
28-Giroux, 14-Couturier, 93-Voracek
21-Laughton, 13-Hayes, 11-Konecny
25-van Riemsdyk, 48-Frost, 18-Pitlick
12-Raffl, 82-Bunnaman, 62-Aube-Kubel
23-Lindblom (Ewing's sarcoma)
55-Morin (torn ACL)