A trip to play the Red Wings in Detroit will mean a lot of things to a lot of players on the Capitals’ roster.
For defenseman Steve Oleksy, who hails from Chesterfield, Mich., tonight’s game [7:30 p.m., CSN] will bring back memories of his first time playing at Joe Louis Arena as an 11-year-old squirt.
For right wing Troy Brouwer, it will evoke memories of the playoff wars between his old Chicago Blackhawks and the Red Wings.
And for Alex Ovechkin, it will be a chance to reconnect with one of the greatest players Russia has ever produced center Pavel Datsyuk.
Oleksy grew up about 30 miles north of Detroit and remembers watching players like enforcer Bob Probert, hard-hitting defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov and world-class defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom turn the Red Wings into a perennial powerhouse.
But if you ask Oleksy what he remembers most about Joe Louis Arena, it would be winning a championship there as an 11-year-old youth player.
“That’s the one that stands out,” said Oleksy, who will be playing his first NHL game in Detroit. “It’s a great feeling and you never expect so many years later you’ll be back playing there. It’s a great feeling and a great accomplishment.”
Oleksy said he began receiving ticket requests for tonight’s game when the Capitals’ schedule was released last summer. He said he went through his ticket allotment pretty quickly and expects a big reception from his family and friends.
“It’s going to be a great family affair,” he said. “The bottom line is we’re looking for two points. There’s always time to see family and fiends. They’ve got to understand that this is my job. It’s a business day. It’s time to work.”
Brouwer said he views the Red Wings like many Capitals fans view the Penguins and Flyers. As a member of the Hawks, Brouwer faced the Red Wings in the 2009 playoffs and saw Detroit eliminate Chicago in five games.
“Extremely tough place to play,” he said. “Good ice -- it makes you feel like a good player -- but a tough place to play.”
Brouwer recalled a couple of Blackhawks teammates getting in a cab in Detroit and being taken “to the middle of nowhere” in an attempted robbery.
“Nothing ever happened out of it,” Brouwer said, “but where we stayed downtown, it’s a little bit of a grim area.”
Ovechkin, 28, has spent much of his career admiring Dasyuk, who at 35 is still one of the Red Wings’ top players with nine goals, 11 assists and a plus-10 rating in 19 games.
Ovechkin, who is from Moscow, and Datsyuk, who is from Sverdlovsk, played together in the 2006 and 2010 Winter Olympics and are expected to join forces again in the 2014 Games in Sochi.
“Great person and unbelievable player,” Ovechkin said of Datsyuk, who has won two Stanley Cups, three Selke trophies and four Lady Byng trophies. “Probably top three guy in the league right now.”
Datsyuk centers the NHL’s oldest top line with 33-year-old left wing Henrik Zetterberg [10-11-21, plus-12] and 38-year-old Todd Bertuzzi [5-4-9, even]
“He’s one of the best,” Ovechkin said. “His skill with the puck is incredible. He can do everything. It’s a great challenge for everybody. For our D it will be a big battle because if you can stop that kind of guy you can stop everybody.
“It’s going to be a hard game for us, especially in that building.”
Green out, Strachan in: Caps defenseman Mike Green is expected to miss his first game of the season with a lower body bruise. He’ll be replaced by Hershey Bears callup Tyson Strachan, who will play the right side on a second defense pairing with Nate Schmidt.
News and notes: The Caps [10-8-1] can be in first place tonight with a win over the Red Wings [9-5-5] and a loss by the Penguins tonight against Nashville. … The Caps are 8-4-1 since starting the season 1-4-0. … The Caps lead the NHL with a 25.6 percent success rate on the power play and are second on the penalty kill at 89.2 percent. … The Red Wings have lost eight of their last 11, but five of those losses have come in overtimes or shootouts. The Red Wings are also winless in their last six at Joe Louis Arena, their longest drought at home since the 1996-97 season. … The Caps’ third line of Mikhail Grabovski, Jason Chimera and Joel Ward has combined for 30 points in the last 11 games.
Here are projected rosters for both teams:
Marty Erat – Nicklas Backstrom – Alex Ovechkin
Brooks Laich – Marcus Johansson – Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera – Mikhail Grabovski – Joel Ward
Aaron Volpatti – Michael Latta – Tom Wilson
Karl Alzner – John Carlson
Nate Schmidt – Tyson Strachan
Alex Urbom – Steve Oleksy
Braden Holtby [starter] Michal Neuvirth
Todd Bertuzzi – Pavel Datsyuk – Henrik Zetterberg
Johan Franzen – Darren Helm – Daniel Alfredsson
Dan Cleary – Joakim Andersson – Mikael Samuelsson
Drew Miller – Luke Glendening – Justin Abdelkader
Niklas Kronwall – Jonathan Ericsson
Kyle Quincey – Danny Dekeyser
Jakub Kindl – Brian Lashoff
Jimmy Howard [starter] – Jonas Gustavsson