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Ovechkin to team with Erat on Capitals' top line

by Adam Vingan

ARLINGTON, Va. -- For his past 40 games dating to last season (including the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs), Washington Capitals right wing Alex Ovechkin only has known Marcus Johansson as his left wing.

Between March 17 and Oct. 28, Ovechkin and Johansson flanked Nicklas Backstrom on Washington's top line, combining for 59 points at even-strength. Yet when Ovechkin returns to the lineup Tuesday against the New York Islanders after missing two games with an upper-body injury, he will see Martin Erat on his opposite wing.

"We'll see [Tuesday]," Ovechkin said when asked about the differences between Erat and Johansson. "He's a skilled guy, experienced guy and I'm sure he’s going to help our line to create more opportunities to score goals. He's a great player."

Ovechkin was hurt last Monday against the Vancouver Canucks, and when he sat out games Friday at the Philadelphia Flyers and Saturday at the Florida Panthers, coach Adam Oates constructed a top line that featured Backstrom between Erat and Eric Fehr. With Ovechkin's return, Fehr will be a healthy scratch while Erat stays on the top line.

"He's a hard-working guy," Backstrom said of Erat. "He can handle the puck, forecheck. He can pretty much do everything. He's a pretty all-around player, so it looks good. Hopefully it feels fine in the game too."

Erat, a top-six fixture during his 11-season tenure with the Nashville Predators, started this season on the fourth line and receiving some of the lowest ice time of his career, but he's spent the past seven games on Washington's first and second lines.

Oates told Erat after practice Monday that he would remain on the first line with Backstrom and Ovechkin.

"I have to take advantage of it," Erat said, "and I have to prove I belong in the top-six forwards."

Here is how the lineups likely will look for the Capitals and Islanders:


Martin Erat - Nicklas Backstrom - Alex Ovechkin

Brooks Laich - Marcus Johansson - Troy Brouwer

Jason Chimera - Mikhail Grabovski - Joel Ward

Aaron Volpatti - Michael Latta - Tom Wilson

Karl Alzner - John Carlson

Nate Schmidt - Mike Green

Alexander Urbom - Steve Oleksy

Braden Holtby

Michal Neuvirth

Scratched: Jay Beagle, Eric Fehr, Dmitry Orlov

Injured: John Erskine (upper body), Jack Hillen (fractured tibial plateau)


Thomas Vanek - John Tavares - Kyle Okposo

Josh Bailey - Frans Nielsen - Pierre-Marc Bouchard

Michael Grabner - Peter Regin - Cal Clutterbuck

Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Brock Nelson

Andrew MacDonald - Travis Hamonic

Thomas Hickey - Matt Carkner

Matt Donovan - Radek Martinek

Evgeni Nabokov

Kevin Poulin

Scratched: Colin McDonald, Eric Boulton

Injured: Lubomir Visnovsky (concussion), Brian Strait (upper body)

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