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Capitals on cusp of nailing down top Eastern seed

Trotz juggles lines against Senators with clincher in sight

by Chris Stevenson / Correspondent

CAPITALS (51-15-5) at SENATORS (34-31-8)

TV: 7:30 p.m. ET; CSN-DC, RDS2, TSN5, NHL.TV

OTTAWA - The Washington Capitals can clinch the Metropolitan Division and the top seed in the Eastern Conference with a win against the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre on Tuesday.

The Capitals are coming off a 6-2 loss against the Pittsburgh Penguins and have lost three consecutive road games (0-2-1).

They have not lost back-to-back games in regulation this season.

Capitals coach Barry Trotz is shaking up his top line for the game, replacing Jay Beagle with Justin Williams on right wing with center Nicklas Backstrom and left wing Alex Ovechkin.

"Just moving guys around for different reasons," Trotz said. "You may want a different matchup, you may want to just see how the lines look, those type of things. It's in-house."

Said Ovechkin, "I think it's just a situation that [Trotz] wants to see if something is going to happen in the playoffs, what the lines are going to be. It's just for the future if something bad is going to happen and we have to do some adjustment."

Washington goaltender Braden Holtby, who needs five wins to tie Martin Brodeur's NHL record of 48 in a season, said he expects the Capitals to respond the right way against Ottawa.

"It should be a good [response]," Holtby said. "We're going to respond the way we think we should. At the same time that doesn't guarantee us anything. That's a very skillful group over there. They have a lot of strong points to their game."

Holtby said the recent losses will help the Capitals get back to their game with the Stanley Cup Playoffs not far off.

"It's not a fatigue issue at all," he said. "We've had lots of rest; maybe too much sometimes. The last couple of months has been a bit more of a grind for us just mentally to keep going.

"A couple of losses that we've taken lately are good for our game because we were getting away with some stuff that we shouldn't have before, myself and the group. That kind of brings us back to reality, and we have 10 or 11 games left to make sure we sharpen and get back to the way we were playing before."

Trotz said the Capitals' performances lately are typical of a team that has built up a big lead in the standings.

"You can't create urgency," he said. "That's one of the things you get when you get a lead like we have. That's sort of a little bit of the byproduct of it … [you're] sort of waiting to get urgent at times."

Senators defenseman Dion Phaneuf and forward Chris Neil did not take part in the morning skate. It was a maintenance day for Phaneuf, who is expected to play; Neil wasn't feeling well and will be a game-time decision, coach Dave Cameron said.

The Senators lost 7-1 in their last game against the Capitals, in Washington on Jan. 10.

"They're the best team because they're consistent," Cameron said. "They play the same way and they stick to it. They are going to force us to stick to it. All the good teams play fast. Usually what makes a real good team is they have no glaring weaknesses, and so we're going to have to play fast and stick to it."

Goaltender Craig Anderson will start for the Senators.

Here are the projected lineups:


Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Justin Williams

Andre Burakovsky - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie

Jason Chimera - Marcus Johansson - Jay Beagle

Daniel Winnik - Mike Richards - Tom Wilson

Karl Alzner - Matt Niskanen

Dmitry Orlov - Brooks Orpik

Mike Weber - Taylor Chorney

Braden Holtby

Philipp Grubauer

Injured: John Carlson (lower body)

Scratched: Michael Latta, Stanislav Galiev


Zack Smith - Jean-Gabriel Pageau - Mark Stone

Mike Hoffman - Mika Zibanejad - Bobby Ryan

Matt Puempel - Scott Gomez - Alex Chiasson

Nick Paul - Curtis Lazar - Chris Neil

Marc Methot - Erik Karlsson

Dion Phaneuf - Cody Ceci

Michael Kostka - Chris Wideman

Craig Anderson

Andrew Hammond

Injured: Mark Borowiecki (knee), Kyle Turris (ankle), Chris Phillips (back), Clarke MacArthur (concussion), Patrick Wiercioch (undisclosed)

Scratched: Ryan Dzingel

Status report: If Neil can't play because of illness, it's expected Dzingel, who was scratched against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday, will play.

Who's hot: Zibanejad has three goals and two assists in his past four games. .... Hoffman has one goal and four assists in his past four games. … Burakovsky has two goals in his past two games.

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