CAPITALS (9-8-3) at ISLANDERS (15-6-0)
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Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin practiced Wednesday morning and said he's good to go against the New York Islanders.
Ovechkin skated with regular center Nicklas Backstrom and wing Tom Wilson during the morning skate, one day after leaving practice with an upper-body tweak. When the skate was finished, coach Barry Trotz said he expects Ovechkin to play tonight, according to the Washington Post.
"I feel good," Ovechkin said after practicing in video the Capitals posted on their website. "One part of my body didn't feel great [Tuesday]. It's better today, so I'm in."
A healthy Ovechkin and his Capitals are turning their attention to the Islanders, who are currently tied atop the Metropolitan Division with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"It's like a playoff mentality right now for us," Ovechkin said. "They're playing well right now, and it's going to be a huge opportunity for us to check how good we are, and how we can handle the pressure."
Two Islanders players who missed the game Monday against the Philadelphia Flyers because of illness will be back in the lineup. Defensemen Calvin de Haan and Thomas Hickey will dress, with Brian Strait and Matt Donovan coming out, according to the team.
For the first time since signing with New York this offseason, forward Mikhail Grabovski will get a chance to play against his former team.
"I had a great year. I enjoyed being coached by Adam Oates. As a person I have a lot memories from him," Grabovski said. "They had great guys, a bunch of guys I'm still friends with now. It was a great experience to play with Alex Ovechkin. Washington is a great city, but you guys know that pressure."
The Islanders are off to their best start to a season in franchise history, winners of 15 of their first 21 games. They're also 6-1-0 against division opponents.
"You're seeing players mature, and it's only more rewarding when you've gone through the lows like we did for a period of time," Islanders general manager Garth Snow told the New York Post on Tuesday. "When we set out on the rebuild, we knew it would take a lot of patience, and now we're seeing the fruits of that labor."
One of the players who has been there since 2007, Kyle Okposo, has noticed the difference.
"I've liked what other teams have said after they've played us. How tough it is to play against us," Okposo said. "That's something that we've really been stressing as a team and coaches have been stressing, is to be tough to play against, and we've done a good job of that."
Here are the projected lineups:
Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – Tom Wilson
Marcus Johansson – Andre Burakovsky – Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera – Jay Beagle – Joel Ward
Michael Latta – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Eric Fehr
Brooks Orpik – John Carlson
Karl Alzner – Matt Niskanen
Nate Schmidt – Jack Hillen
Scratched: Liam O'Brien
Injured: Brooks Laich (shoulder), Mike Green (upper body), Aaron Volpatti (upper body), Dmitry Orlov (wrist), John Erskine (neck surgery)
Nikolay Kulemin – John Tavares – Kyle Okposo
Mikhail Grabovski – Frans Nielsen – Josh Bailey
Anders Lee – Brock Nelson – Ryan Strome
Matt Martin – Casey Cizikas – Cal Clutterbuck
Calvin de Haan – Travis Hamonic
Nick Leddy – Johnny Boychuk
Thomas Hickey – Lubomir Visnovsky
Scratched: Cory Conacher, Matt Donovan, Brian Strait
Injured: Eric Boulton (lower body), Matt Carkner (back), Michael Grabner (lower body)
Status report: O'Brien took line rushes at the end of practice with Fehr and Latta, but is expected to be a scratch.
Who's hot: Halak has won his past seven starts, with three shutouts over that stretch and eight goals allowed. Nelson has scored three goals in his past five games.