NHL on NBCSN: Caps, Red Wings battle after hotly contested 13-14 series

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign when the Washington Capitals host the Detroit Red Wings at the Verizon Center at 7:30 p.m. ET tonight. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

The Red Wings and Capitals were two of the NHL’s bigger mysteries entering the season. That’s still true even after they each played their first eight games.

After a disastrous 2013-14 campaign where Washington failed to even make the playoffs, the Capitals brought in head coach Barry Trotz to help right the ship. In some regards that’s been a success. After ranking 27th in the league in shots allowed (33.5 per game) last season, they’ve held their competition to just 25 shots per contest in 2014-15. Additionally, they’ve been one of the league’s top teams from an analytics perspective.

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That hasn’t paid off as much as one might think as the Capitals are a solid, but not great 4-2-2 so far this season. After their 4-2 loss to Vancouver on Sunday, Trotz suggested that the team might be overvaluing analytics.

The bench boss did more than just talk about philosophy in the lead-up to tonight’s game though. He also attempted to balance the Capitals’ line by breaking up Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Rookie standout Andre Burakovsky is now projected play alongside Ovechkin and Joel Ward.

“We need some balance in our scoring,” Trotz told CSN Washington. “We’re getting it from our bottom six [forwards]. We need a little more consistency from our top six, game in and game out.”

Speaking of consistency from the Capitals’ top-six, Ovechkin has no points and just seven shots on goal in his last four games. If this shakeup doesn’t spark Ovechkin, then Detroit’s job will be substantially easier.

The Red Wings are entering this contest with a 4-2-2 record and, in contrast to last season, a largely healthy squad. They still don’t have Johan Franzen (groin) back, but it pales in comparison to what they had to go through in 2013-14.

Detroit will either make a strong statement this season or reinforce the conventional wisdom. The Red Wings barely managed to scrape into the 2014 playoffs and have come to be regarded as a club in transition rather than the legitimate Cup contenders they once were. That’s understandable given the players that have moved on since they won the Stanley Cup in 2008, but the Red Wings also set a franchise record with 421 man games lost last season, so perhaps it wasn’t a fair indicator of what they’re capable of.

It remains to be seen if either squad will do substantially better than their 2013-14 counterparts, but they certainly both have a lot of potential. If nothing else, an argument can be made that they’re more imposing than the squads that battle each other three times last season –- and given that all of those contests ended up going to overtime, we could be in for a great game.