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Caps focused on having big weekend

by Ben Raby
ARLINGTON, Va. -- The Washington Capitals seek a return to the top eight in the Eastern Conference on Friday as they continue their season-long five-game homestand against the New Jersey Devils.

After consecutive wins against the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Islanders, the competition gets stiffer this weekend with the Devils' visit tonight and the Philadelphia Flyers in town Sunday (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

"It’s a challenge for us," Capitals forward Joel Ward said of the weekend ahead. "Obviously if you win outright, you can advance and move up in the standings as much as you can. We've had some success at home, so we just have to keep building on that."

The Caps have the second-best home record in the Eastern Conference (21-7-2), but they enter play tonight in ninth place in the conference, one point behind eighth-place Winnipeg and six points behind seventh place New Jersey.

Washington also is within three points of the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers.

The Devils will look to snap a four-game winless streak (0-3-1), following last night's 4-3 overtime loss in Boston. The last time New Jersey went winless in five straight was a six-game skid from Dec. 17-29, 2011.

Michal Neuvirth (9-9-3) will make his fourth straight start for the Capitals while Johan Hedberg (13-7-2) is expected to start for the Devils. Martin Brodeur played last night in Boston, his ninth straight start.

"They had an overtime loss last night," Caps forward Matt Hendricks said of the Devils, "so they're going to try to take it to us early and then play defense for the rest of the game. So we need to get on them, force them into penalties and not allow them many chances."

The Devils did not skate this morning while all but four Capitals (Alexander Semin, Brooks Laich, Marcus Johansson and Dennis Wideman) took part in an optional skate.

Capitals coach Dale Hunter said all four players will play tonight. Veterans Roman Hamrlik and Mike Knuble will be healthy scratches for the fifth and fourth straight games respectively.

Here are the projected lineups for tonight’s game:

Alex Ovechkin - Marcus Johansson - Keith Aucoin
Jason Chimera - Mathieu Perreault - Alexander Semin
Matt Hendricks - Brooks Laich - Troy Brouwer
Jay Beagle - Jeff Halpern - Joel Ward

Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Jeff Schultz - Mike Green
Dmitry Orlov - Dennis Wideman

Michal Neuvirth will start in goal, with Tomas Vokoun the backup.

Zach Parise - Adam Henrique - Ilya Kovalchuk
Petr Sykora - Patrick Elias - Dainius Zubrus
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Jacob Josefson - David Clarkson
Eric Boulton - Ryan Carter - Steve Bernier

Mark Fayne - Andy Greene
Marek Zidlicky - Anton Volchenkov
Adam Larsson - Bryce Salvador

Johan Hedberg will get the start in goal, with Martin Brodeur the backup.

Sykora will play his 999th NHL game tonight.
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