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Five things to watch as Capitals host Red Wings

by Dan Rosen

Odds are there won't be any surprises Wednesday at Verizon Center, where Barry Trotz and Mike Babcock square off against one another in their latest battle of coaching wits as the Washington Capitals and Detroit Red Wings play in the NBCSN Wednesday Night Rivalry game (7:30 p.m. ET).

Trotz, in his first season coaching the Capitals, and Babcock, in his 10th season in Detroit, are so familiar with each other they could probably switch sides and nothing would change.

4-2-2 (4th, Atlantic) 2014-15 Record 4-2-2 (3rd, Metropolitan)
2778-2330-815-109 All-Time Record 1374-1319-303-110
46-40-16-2 Head-to-Head Regular-Season Record 42-43-16-3
1-0-2 Streak vs. Opponent 4-0-1
0-3-1 @ Washington Home/Road Streak vs. Opponent 4-0-0 vs. Red Wings
11 Stanley Cup Championships 0
48 Hockey Hall of Fame Members 6
Gordie Howe Most Famous Alumnus Mike Gartner
9 Hart Trophy Winners 3
62 Postseason Appearances 24
Adam Oates (1985-89) Best Player in Common Adam Oates (1997-2002)

Trotz's and Babcock's teams have played against each other 62 times in the past 11 regular seasons, including 60 times in the same conference and 52 times in the same division, all with Trotz as the coach of the Nashville Predators.

Babcock has the slight edge with a 33-21-8 record combined with the Anaheim Ducks and Detroit Red Wings. Trotz went 29-26-7 against Babcock's teams as the coach in Nashville.

They have met twice in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the Red Wings and Predators each winning a series. Trotz owns a slight edge with a 6-5 record.

However, the game Wednesday does feature a series of firsts for the Trotz-Babcock coaching rivalry.

1) After 10 seasons of coaching against each other in the Western Conference, this is the first time Trotz and Babcock are coaching against each other in an all-Eastern Conference game.

2) Trotz has never faced Babcock as the coach of the Capitals.

3) This is the first time the Trotz-Babcock coaching rivalry has featured Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin.

So while there may not be any surprises Wednesday night, at least there will be some new storylines surrounding the familiar coaches.

Here are five things to watch in this week's Wednesday Night Rivalry game, the Trotz-Babcock edition:

1. Detroit's PK vs. Washington's PP

Power on power here, as the Red Wings entered play Tuesday with the NHL's best penalty kill at 96.2 percent (25-for-26) and the Capitals with the fourth best power play at 25.9 percent (7-for-27).

Detroit's PK has done a good job at limiting chances against, as it has allowed one goal on 39 shots. It is allowing 1.5 shots on goal per PK.

"They've been pretty sound and they've got good goaltending, but more than anything they've really got good sticks," Trotz said. "They've got good angles and good sticks, and when you bobble they've got some pressure points. They really flood down low and seal off a lot of your exit options."

Washington has been efficient with seven power-play goals on 35 shots in its 27 opportunities. The Capitals have scored two goals on eight shots in eight power plays totaling 11:06 in their past four games.

"What I like about our power play is that there are a lot of interchangeable parts, be it [Evgeny] Kuznetsov and [Andre] Burakovsky vs. [Nicklas] Backstrom, [Marcus] Johansson and [Mike] Green. We could take losing a guy or two and still have the same set because they're interchangeable that way," Trotz said.

2. Detroit's power play, more aggressive?


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Scoring has been problem for the Red Wings, who are averaging 2.25 goals per game and have two or fewer goals in six of eight games. It wouldn't be as big a problem if the Red Wings could get their power play going.

Detroit hasn't scored in 20 consecutive power plays and is 2-for-30 with 35 shots on goal this season. The Red Wings were at least averaging almost five shots on the power play per game through seven games, but the bottom fell out against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday, when they went 0-for-3 with one shot on goal in 5:36 of power-play time.

It wouldn't be surprising if Babcock changed some of the personnel on the power play. At practice Tuesday he moved Gustav Nyquist back to the first unit to play with Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. Tomas Jurco bumped down to the second unit.

"We've got to attack more," Zetterberg told the Detroit Free Press. "Just shoot, that will help. We're too careful. We're afraid of losing the puck, so we're not shooting. We've got to shoot, and if the goalie makes the save, we've got to retrieve the puck."

3. Wilson in or out?

Trotz said he will decide after the morning skate Wednesday if forward Tom Wilson is going to make his season debut.

"I would say there is probably a 75 percent chance that he'll be in the lineup," Trotz said.

Wilson has been out because he fractured his fibula in the offseason and required surgery. He played two games with the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League before he was recalled Monday. If he plays he'll likely start on the fourth line with Michael Latta and Liam O'Brien.

If Wilson plays, Trotz said he will evaluate his performance before deciding if he needs more time in the AHL.

4. Free hockey

The Capitals and Red Wings have been working overtime a lot so far this season. Seven of their combined 16 games have gone into overtime, including four that had to be decided in the shootout.

The Capitals are 1-2 in the shootout, as all three of their overtime games have extended that far. Two of Detroit's four wins have come in overtime on goals by Zetterberg (against the Toronto Maple Leafs) and Justin Abdelkader (against the Pittsburgh Penguins).

The Red Wings have had six games decided by one goal or in the shootout. They were close to a seventh Saturday against the Philadelphia Flyers before Michael Raffl scored an empty-net goal at 19:29 of the third period to give Philadelphia a 4-2 win.

Close games tend to occur when your penalty kill is at 96.2 percent and your power play is at 6.7 percent. The Red Wings aren't giving up much (16 goals), but they aren't scoring much either (18 goals).

Washington has played in four one-goal games. It was close to a fifth this past Sunday against the Vancouver Canucks before Radim Vrbata scored an empty-net power-play goal at 18:59 of the third period.

5. Burakovsky playing with Ovechkin

Trotz was high on Burakovsky coming out of rookie camp in September and he hasn't changed his mind. Burakovsky, Washington's 19-year-old rookie center, has seven points in eight games. He'll get a chance to play with Ovechkin on Wednesday.

Trotz said he'll start the game with Burakovsky playing between Ovechkin and Joel Ward, leaving Backstrom to play between Troy Brouwer and Marcus Johansson. He said if it doesn't work he'll flip Backstrom and Burakovsky, but he wants to see the new dynamic.

Andre Burakovsky
Left Wing - WSH
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 7
SOG: 13 | +/-: 4
"He's a guy that's got a high hockey IQ. That's where it starts," Trotz said of Burakovsky. "He works at his game. He produces in the game. He's not intimidated by the lack of time and space. He's got good poise for a young man. I like all those things. And he's learning a new position and he's excelling at it. I like that."

Trotz said he's separating Ovechkin and Backstrom to make it harder on Detroit. The Red Wings would normally try to match Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson against Ovechkin and Backstrom, but Trotz wants to force Babcock into a tough decision.

"It's a harder matchup for teams that have only one big pair of defense," Trotz said. "What we saw on the road is they had a full dose of [TJ] Brodie and [Mark] Giordano, and they had a full dose of [Dan] Hamhuis and [Kevin] Bieksa. It's another way of just making it a little tougher for the other team."


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