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Capitals visit Red Wings with eye on first place

by Corey Masisak

CAPITALS (10-8-1) at RED WINGS (9-5-5)


Last 10: Washington 6-3-1; Detroit 3-2-5

Season series: This is the first of three meetings between the two teams. The Washington Capitals won both matchups during the 2011-12 season by outscoring the Detroit Red Wings 12-4.

Big story: As poorly as the Capitals started and the Red Wings have played of late, Washington could be in first place in the Metropolitan Division and Detroit could be in second in the Atlantic by the conclusion of the games Friday night.

Team Scope:

Capitals: Washington has ridden a 5-1-1 streak into second place in the Metropolitan and is one point behind division-leading Pittsburgh, though the Penguins have a game in hand. The Capitals have struggled at even strength but lead the NHL with a 25.6 percent success rate on the power play and are second on the penalty kill at 89.2 percent. Their record has been aided by a 4-0 record in the shootout, where the Capitals are 7-0 since Adam Oates took over as coach before last season.

However, the Capitals will be without defenseman Mike Green (lower body). They called up Tyson Strachan from Hershey of the American Hockey League on Thursday, though Green made the trip to Detroit.

"I think it was stiffer than he anticipated," Oates said. "He's got a contusion there, lower-body, and it just doesn't feel good enough to go."

Red Wings: Detroit has lost eight of its past 11 games to slip into fourth place in the Atlantic. The Red Wings are winless in their past six games at Joe Louis Arena, their worst drought at home since 1996-97; however, five of the losses have come to overtime or shootouts, cushioning the slump.

“We’ve been able to get one point [at home] a number a times and we haven’t been able to get the second one,” coach Mike Babcock told the media on Thursday. “We’re taking steps here and need to continue to get better. Playing without the puck will be key for us.”

The biggest issue is a lack of offense beyond the team's two stars. Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk have combined for 19 of Detroit's 47 goals (more than 40 percent), and the Red Wings' average of 2.47 goals per game ranked 21st in the League.

Who's hot: Washington's third line has produced more like a top unit in the past 11 games. Mikhail Grabovski, Joel Ward and Jason Chimera have combined for 14 goals and 30 points in that span … Zetterberg and Datsyuk have combined for eight goals and 17 points in the past six contests for the Red Wings.

Injury report: Washington defenseman John Erskine (upper body) has been out since Oct. 28, and Jack Hillen (leg) is expected to be out until at least February … The Red Wings are missing defenseman Brendan Smith (shoulder) and center Stephen Weiss (groin). They will get No. 2 defenseman Jonathan Ericsson back from an upper-body injury that has kept him out since Oct. 19 against Phoenix.

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