Neuvirth vs. Bryzgalov
As I mentioned in a previous post, Michal Neuvirth will get his chance to reprove himself tonight against the Coyotes.
"Why not?" Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "He's had 10 days off, basically, and we don't want him to get too rusty. [Jose Theodore] has played three games in a week for the first time in a while [and] he's probably going to have to play three games again next week, or more. So it's not a bad time to give him a rest."
Neuvirth is expected to face Ilya Bryzgalov, who boasts a 2.31 goals against average and a .919 save percentage but has yielded four goals four times in eight starts this month.
Based on the morning skate, the Caps' forward lines do not appear to have changed (I think we're entering record territory for Boudreau). The D-pairings, however, will be different with Mike Green and John Erskine set to return from injuries.
With Green, who missed Thursday's game in Pittsburgh, it was all about being able to generate velocity and lift on his shots. He was nursing a sore left hand after instinctively blocking a shot against the Red Wings with his fist.
"I asked him the other night to be honest with me, and usually the players are," Boudreau said. "If they're going to hurt the team then they're not going to go."
Erskine, meanwhile, will return after missing six games with an upper body injury. Brian Pothier, though, will sit out at least one more game with a fractured bone in his left hand that he suffered while blocking a shot in Florida.
"You don't like to change the lineup too drastically," Boudreau said about reinserting Erskine but not Pothier. "I would rather have guys come in the lineup one at a time rather than have wholesale changes."
Some other morning skate notes to get you ready for tonight's showdown at Verizon Center (where the Caps are 17-3-3 and have won five straight):
*After scoring on Brent Johnson, Alex Ovechkin has now scored on 71 goalies. Will Bryzgalov, his Team Russia teammate, be No. 72?
*The game will mark Sami Lepisto's first against his former organization. The defenseman, who was drafted by Washington in the third round in 2004, was dealt to the Coyotes for a fifth round pick last summer because of the logjam on the blue line.
So far the 25-year-old has appeared 43 games, racked up seven assists and a plus minus rating of minus-1. He's averaging 17:57 of ice time per game, but also has eight 'DNDs' on his resume. Tonight, he'll probably be on the third pairing with Keith Yandle.
"He's a good defenseman," Boudreau said. "We just had too many. We didn't think he would accept going back to the American Hockey League again, and probably would have stayed over in Finland. So we had to move him if we didn't think that he was going to crack our top seven this year."
*Boudreau on bottling up the Coyotes' high-scoring defense, which features three players with six or more goals and 21 or more points, a group led by veteran Ed Jovanovski (8 goals, 26 assists): "They have the most goals from the D, I think, in the league. Our [forwards] have to be on the ball tonight because you know they're going to be coming up with the play."
*Boudreau on the mentality his team needs to bring to the rink tonight: "They play so structured and are so sound in their system. They have that 'us-against-the world' mentality and they're tough to beat. They may not have a lot of goals up front, but they certainly can skate. They'll pressure us [and are] very similar to the Islanders in that they will work very hard. If we think we're just going to go out there and throw our jerseys on the ice and say, 'We just beat Pittsburgh,' we're going to get our butts handed to us. We better be ready to work tonight because we know they will be."
*Boudreau also said that Dave Tippett deserves Coach of the Year consideration for what he's done with the Coyotes. (They're clearly more capable than what they showed under Wayne Gretzky and currently sit in fourth place in the Western Conference.)
"He's a really intelligent guy and the players play for him," Boudreau said of Tippett. "He's done a great job. He's right up there when you're [talking about] coach of the year. I would think he'd be a candidate."
*Phoenix's leading goal scorer is Scotti Upshall with 17 goals. The Caps have four players with 17 or more (Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Tomas Fleischmann).
*The Coyotes skated here at KCI this morning because of the Georgetown basketball game at Verizon Center.
*A win would give the Caps their third six game winning streak. Only San Jose has more than one.
I'll check in later with a lineup.
January 23, 2010; 12:27 PM ET
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