COYOTES (29-23-11) at CAPITALS (29-25-10)
Season series: The Phoenix Coyotes won the first game 4-3 in a shootout Nov. 9 and have won six of the past nine meetings against the Washington Capitals.
Big story: The Coyotes, who are one point behind eighth-place Dallas in the Western Conference standings, are starting a four-game trip vs. Eastern Conference teams. Phoenix is 12-7-3 vs. Eastern Conference teams this season. Meanwhile, Dallas is hosting Minnesota tonight.
Coyotes: Phoenix has won two games in a row but its performance on this four-game trip to Washington, Tampa Bay, Florida and Boston will help define if it is a playoff team or not.
"Washington and Tampa are in hard playoff chases, and Boston's a real top team," Head Coach Dave Tippett said. "We're going to have to play a real disciplined, hard, road style if we're going to win."
Mike Smith is expected to start in goal. Smith has excelled since the start of February with a 1.62 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage in eight games during that span.
Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson likely will lead the team in ice time yet again. Ekman-Larsson skated 30:48 vs. Montreal on Thursday, marking the eighth game in his NHL career that he has skated 30-plus minutes in a game.
Defenseman Chris Summers will make his season debut tonight in place of David Schlemko, who suffered a lower-body injury in Thursday's game. Summers has played 29 games for the Coyotes since they drafted him 29th overall in 2006.
Erat notched two goals and 27 points in 62 games with the Capitals after arriving before the deadline last season, and requested a trade in November before being moved him this week.
“I’m not going to say anything wrong,” Erat said, when asked to reflect on his short stay in Washington. “It was just wrong place and wrong time. I can’t think about it for too long. This is my new team, and I just want to help this team.”
Ribeiro spent the 2012-13 campaign in Washington and Halpern, a native of the D.C. area, spent parts of seven seasons with the Capitals and served as team captain during the 2005-06 season.
Capitals: Washington has issues to worry about other than former players returning to town. The Capitals have lost three straight games, and since the start of the third period Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers have been outscored 12-4 and outshot 85-44.
In the past two games, the Capitals set a season-low with eight shots on goal in two periods, then matched it; they have been outshot 50-16 in the first two periods of those games.
General Manager George McPhee surprisingly criticized his goaltending in the media, then traded for Jaroslav Halak from the Buffalo Sabres before the deadline Wednesday. He is expected to make his first start for the Capitals.
Defenseman Dmitry Orlov is eligible to return from a two-game suspension he received for boarding Flyers forward Brayden Schenn.
Who's hot: Coyotes captain Shane Doan has three goals and five points in his past four games... Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin has four goals and seven points in five games since returning from the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Injury report: Coyotes center Martin Hanzal (lower body) has missed the past two games but did accompany the team on the trip. He is "doubtful" for this game, according to Tippett. Defenseman David Schlemko (lower body), who left Thursday's game after blocking a shot by Montreal's P.K. Subban, will not play... Capitals center Mikhail Grabovski (lower body) is out. Forward Brooks Laich (groin) and defenseman John Erskine (upper body) skated Friday and could play.
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