Pre-game primer: Caps can smell a playoff berth

Pre-game primer: Caps can smell a playoff berth
March 25, 2014, 5:15 pm
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News and notes as the Capitals [34-27-11, 79 points] return home to face the Los Angeles Kings [41-25-6, 88 points] tonight at Verizon  Center [6:30 p.m., Caps Central, CSN]:

Starting goalies: The Caps are slated to go with Jaroslav Halak, who is 4-2-1 since coming to the Capitals in a March 5 trade with Buffalo. The Kings are expected to go with rookie Martin Jones, who is 10-5-0 with a 1.90 GAA, .932 save percentage and three shutouts. Kings coach Darryl Sutter would not announce his starter before the game. Caps defenseman Karl Alzner was teammates with Jones when both played junior hockey for the Calgary Hitmen of the Western League. "He was good then, so I'm sure he's pretty good now," Alzner said. "I'm not a goal-scoring expoert but I would try to get the puck up on him."

Trending: The Caps are 4-0-1 in their last five, their only blemish a 2-1 shootout loss to the Kings in L.A. last week. The Kings have followed a three-game losing streak with a three-game winning streak, including a hard-fought 3-2 win over the Flyers in Philadelphia Monday night.

Where they stand: The Caps are in ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings, one point behind the Maple Leafs and Red Wings. The Caps have one game in hand on Toronto and have played two more games than Detroit. The Kings hold the third spot in the Pacific Division, eight points ahead of Phoenix, which holds the final wild-card spot in the West.

Who to root for: If the Caps win tonight and the Leafs fall at home to the St. Louis Blues, the Caps would vault past the Leafs and into a wild card spot. Same goes if the Caps win and the Red Wings lose to the Blue Jackets in Columbus.

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Bumps and bruises: The Kings rank second to the Toronto Maple Leafs in total hits this season with 2,294. Captain Dustin Brown leads the way with 210. “You have to go into the game prepared to take a ton of hits and having to go back and find pucks,” Caps defenseman Karl Alzner said. “It’s not an easy team to play against, but it’s a good challenge.” The Kings have 10 players with 100 or more hits. The Caps, who rank 15th in the league with 1,689 hits, have three over 100, led by Troy Brouwer’s 193.

Grabo update: Mikhail Grabovski is sitting out for the 21st time in 22 games but he said he skated hard laps after Tuesday’s morning skate and said he’s hoping to play against the Bruins on Saturday afternoon.

Cardiac Caps: When center Chris Brown scored his first career NHL goal on Saturday night to spark a 3-2 shootout win over the Sharks, it marked the 12th time the Caps have come back to win a game after trailing through two periods, tops in the NHL.

Isn’t that special: During their 4-0-1 streak the Caps have killed off 17 straight penalties. They have killed off 21 straight penalties overall.

Sutter on Penner: Caps left wing Dustin Penner won a Stanley Cup with the Kings in 2012 and coach Darryl Sutter said he hasn’t forgotten his contributions from that season. “He scored an overtime goal to put us into the Stanley Cup Final,” Sutter said. “That’s what I remember most. When you score an overtime goal in a [conference] championship game I’d say that’s valuable.”