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Arizona Coyotes face major challenge against Washington Capitals

Faced with the league's best goal-scorer while potentially down their best defenseman, the Arizona Coyotes will have their work cut out for them.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

No game in the National Hockey League is easy. But when looking at tonight's matchup against the Washington Capitals, the Arizona Coyotes might be forgiven for thinking the difficulty setting got turned up a notch.

The Arizona Coyotes begin their five game East Coast road trip against the best team in the league tonight as they play the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center in D.C.

Matchup at a Glance

Arizona Coyotes Washington Capitals
Points 60 (4th Pacific) 90 (1st Metropolitan)
Goals For 2.76 (9th) 3.30 (1st)
Goals Against 3.09 (30th) 2.28 (2nd)
Power Play 19.4% (12th) 23.2% (1st)
Penalty Kill 77.8% (28th) 84.3% (4th)
5v5 Corsi For 46.7% (28th) 50.4% (16th)
PDO 100.8 (T-5th) 102.3 (2nd)

View from Arizona

The stakes of this game are extremely high. Arizona Sports' Craig Morgan reported yesterday that General Manager Don Maloney has been talking with other teams about possible trades, but has largely been in a holding pattern up until this game. Quoth Maloney:

"What I’ve told a lot of teams is ‘let’s talk after the Washington game,'" he said. "‘Let’s see where we are after that and we can have another conversation.'"

Arizona is going to have a lot to prove in this game after a 6-4 loss against St. Louis on Saturday that was not as close as the score would indicate. Far more problematic however was the loss of Oliver Ekman-Larsson early in the first period to some sort of ankle or foot injury. It doesn't sound like the injury is long-term, but any missed time is not good for Arizona's dwindling playoff chances.

The bright spot in OEL's injury was that waiver pickup Kevin Connauton had perhaps the game of his career. He had a goal and two assists while playing a ridiculous 31:11 against the Blues. Arizona is getting a lot out of Connauton without giving anything up.

View from Washington

For the latest on the Capitals, check out Japers' Rink

The Washington Capitals are a monster. Top five in every major offensive and defensive category. Exceptional goaltending from both Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer. Arguably the best pure goal-scorer in the NHL right now in Alex Ovechkin. The Capitals are absolutely terrifying, and at this point should be the Stanley Cup front-runner.

But if Washington has a weakness, it's in the possession game. Their PDO is sky-high thanks to a ridiculous 9.1 shooting percentage at 5v5 and the strength of their goaltending, but their Corsi For Percentage is middling. Holtby and Co. can certainly carry the load in rough stretches, and it's possible that their shooting percentage is not an aberration and merely the product of high-end talent. But if the Los Angeles Kings are any example, high-flying teams can get run over by teams that don't give up the puck very often.

Any moves Washington GM Brian MacLellan makes before the Trade Deadline are probably going to be tinkering around the edges of the roster. Washington has been good since the drop of the puck in October, and there's no reason to mess with what's working.

Keys to the Game

1. Don't Give Them Freebies: Saying Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom need to be contained isn't much of a revelation, nor is it really possible. But what the Coyotes can do is avoid making ill-advised pinches or dumb penalties that give Washington's forwards easier chances to score.

2. Make Max Domi Work: The more players like Max Domi and Anthony Duclair have to sit on the bench, the less likely it is that the game is going well for Arizona. The Coyotes need their best forwards to be consistently taking shifts all game long.

3. Keep Helping Domingue: Louis Domingue gave up some soft goals against St. Louis. But for the most part the Coyotes were making smart decisions in front of him. Arizona needs to continue to give Louis Domingue good lucks at incoming shots and good angles to cut off.

Players to Watch

Speaking of Domi, Max is getting really tired of hearing about Shayne Gostisbehere and Artemi Panarin in the Calder Trophy race. He has four goals and two assists in his last three games, and is just four points back of OEL for the team lead.

Washington's points leader is not Alex Ovechkin or Nicklas Backstrom, but rather Evgeny Kuznetsov. With 43 assists on the year, Kuznetsov is the little engine that keeps the Washington offense humming.

Injury Report

Oliver Ekman-Larsson is still considered questionable at the time of publishing. Mike Smith and Boyd Gordon are on the trip, but aren't expected to play. Joe Vitale and Anders Lindback are done for the season.

Washington is without Jay Beagle for now, though he has resumed skating. It is unclear when he will return.

Puck Drop

Tonight's game begins at 5 PM Arizona time. You can watch the game on Fox Sports Arizona or listen on ESPN 620 AM.