With Wilson out vs. Coyotes, Caps will need answers to avoid dropping third straight

NBC Sports Washington

With Wilson out vs. Coyotes, Caps will need answers to avoid dropping third straight originally appeared on nbcsportswashington.com

The Capitals will look to end a two-game skid on Thursday as they take to the ice to play the Arizona Coyotes in Glendale (9 p.m., NBC Sports Washington).

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Here is what you should be watching for in Thursday's game.

Tom Wilson's absence

Wilson will miss Thursday's game due to an upper-body injury he suffered during Tuesday's game in Vegas after receiving a late, blind-side hit from Ryan Reaves.  Todd Reirden called him day-to-day after Thursday's morning skate. Since returning to the lineup, Wilson has provided a clear spark for the Caps. Without him, Washington went 7-6-3 to start the season. Since his return, the team has gone 8-3-0. He also has provided a lot of offense with eight goals and 14 points in the 11 games he has played in this season.

Here is what the lines looked like at morning skate, per Isabelle Khurshudyan:

Alex OvechkinNicklas BackstromAndre Burakovsky
Jakub Vrana – Evgeny Kuznetsov- Bretty Connolly
Chandler Stephenson – Lars Eller – Devante Smith-Pelly
Dmitrij Jaskin – Nic Dowd – Travis Boyd

The Caps tried in vain to find a player to plug in effectively on the top line when Wilson was suspended at the start of the season. The issue there is finding a player who can provide the physicality, defensive responsibility, board work and offensive production that Wilson provides.

For now, Burakovsky moves up to the top line into Wilson's spot. He is obviously a very different type of player, but with Backstrom at center instead of Kuznetsov, this line still has some defensive balance rather than the ultra-offense heavy combo of Ovechkin, Kuznetsov.

Will the Caps regress back to the team they were at the start of the season without Wilson? Or will the Caps respond to his injury as strongly as they did after T.J. Oshie and Kuznetsov both came out of the lineup?

Pheonix in Phoenix Glendale

Pheonix Copley will get the start Thursday, his first start since Nov. 24. Copley has been a pleasant surprise this season with a 5-2-1 record in nine appearances. Copley got the win in his last start as he turned aside 27 of the 30 shots he faced against the New York Rangers.

Thursday's game will mark Copley's ninth start of the season, putting him on pace for about 26 over the course of 82 games. If he maintains that pace, that would give Braden Holtby about 56 starts for the season. An upper-body injury to Holtby forced Copley into making four straight starts in mid-November so it is unlikely that he maintains that 26-game pace, but through the first third of the season it is safe to say the Caps thus far have a healthy balance in net between their starter and the backup.

King of the Hill

Sometimes a player unexpectedly jumps into the lineup and takes the NHL by storm. Arizona goalie Adin Hill is currently enjoying such a run for the Coyotes.

Hill has gotten playing time of late due to injuries to goalies Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper. What has he done with his opportunity in the big leagues this season? Oh, nothing. He only has a 4-0-0 record with a 0.56 GAA and .977 save percentage. NBD.

Is this guy the real deal or just having a hot week? It's up to the Caps' offense to put him to the test.

Feeling special

Washington's special teams let it down in Monday's loss and will have to be better against a dangerous Arizona team.

The Caps' power play has gone ice-cold of late with only three goals in the past 20 power play opportunities. Washington's failure to score on a five-minute major power play was the turning point of the game Monday.

Unfortunately for the power play, the task is not going to be any easier in Arizona as the Coyotes boast the league's top penalty kill at 90.0-percent. It's also a very dangerous PK with 11 shorthanded goals already this season.

The Caps' penalty kill has also struggled of late. After a dominant stretch during the team's seven-game win streak, the PK has come up short for Washington in the past two games as it has given up four goals in just nine power play opportunities. No Wilson means the team will be missing one of its top penalty killers from the lineup as well. Staying out of the box may be the Caps' best strategy for keeping Arizona's power play at bay.


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