January 7 vs. Ottawa Senators at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Pre-Cap Podcast at 2 p.m. and Two-Man Advantage Pre-Game Show at 6:15 p.m., both on washingtoncaps.com
Ottawa Senators (22-17-4)
Washington Capitals (25-11-6)
The Capitals close out a two-game homestand when the Ottawa Senators make their first Verizon Center visit of 2009-10 on Thursday night. The Caps and Sens met in Ottawa on Nov. 23 with the Senators earning a 4-3 overtime triumph in that one.
Washington opened its brief homestand with a 4-2 win over Montreal on Tuesday in the first home game of 2010. That victory staunched a three-game losing streak, the longest the Capitals have suffered this season.
Just prior to the win over the Habs, the Caps announced the appointment of Alex Ovechkin as the 14th captain in franchise history. Although Ovechkin was held off the scoresheet in his first game sporting the “C” on his sweater, he made his presence felt with six hits, leading all skaters on both sides.
Caps forward Tomas Fleischmann moved from his customary left wing slot to the center position against Montreal, playing pivot for the first time since junior hockey. Centering a line with Brooks Laich and Alexander Semin, Fleischmann scored the game’s first goal and assisted on Semin’s game-winner and his subsequent insurance tally, too.
“Probably the first five minutes,” said Fleischmann after the game, when asked what the toughest part of the position shift was for him. “After that, I just got used to it and skated around. It went pretty good. They just want to make sure I can play both positions in case something happens. I enjoyed it.”
Fleischmann also showed his capability in the face-off circle, winning six of nine draws on the night.
On Wednesday, Washington announced that it has signed center David Steckel to a three-year contract extension and that it has also inked defenseman Tyler Sloan to a two-year extension.
“I’m really excited about it,” says Steckel of his extension. “This organization has been really good to me. I really like it here and we’re building something here for a while. I just wanted to be a part of it and when it came down to it, both parties agreed.
“Three years, I couldn’t be happier. I am blessed that they agreed and they want me just as bad as I want to be here.”
“They’re great role players,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “Sloaner doesn’t play a lot but this is his first real year in the NHL. He’s a great teammate and when he comes in he does a great job.
“Steckel is a big-game guy Statistics aren’t going to be his forte unless it’s face-offs. But when it comes to big games and in the playoffs the last three or four years that I’ve been with him, he has been as good as there is in the league. And I think he’ll be the same this year and for the next three years.”
With defenseman (and ex-Senator) Brian Pothier set to return after missing a month with a rib injury, the Caps re-assigned defenseman Karl Alzner to Hershey of the AHL.
Washington is just 7-6-1 in the 14 games in which Pothier has not played this season. Along with Mike Green, Pothier is one of just two right-handed shooting blueliners on the Capitals’ roster.
The Senators currently stand third in the Northeast Division standings and sixth overall in the Eastern Conference.
Ottawa just completed a five-game homestand with a 3-2 mark, dropping the final game by a 4-1 count to the divisional rival Bruins on Tuesday. After Thursday’s game with the Caps, the Sens head home for a Saturday date with the Panthers. After that, Ottawa hits the road for five straight.
The Sens have had a heavily skewed schedule to date, playing 26 of their first 43 games this season on home ice. Ottawa is 16-7-3 at home but just 6-10-1 on the road in 2009-10. The Senators are just 3-9-1 in their last 13 road contests.
Two of Ottawa’s top guns are currently on the sidelines, including a noted Capital killer. Center Jason Spezza has a torn right MCL and is out 6-8 weeks. Right wing Daniel Alfredsson has a separated left shoulder and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks.
During his 14-year NHL career, Alfredsson has posted 31 goals and 55 points in just 48 games against Washington.
With Spezza and Alfredsson on the sidelines and with Dany Heatley having been dealt to San Jose in September, the Sens are without each of their top three scorers from the 2008-09 season. Even so, the Senators rank 13th in the NHL with an average of 2.77 goals per game. Mike Fisher and Milan Michalek (obtained in the Heatley deal) have helped pick up some of the offensive slack for Ottawa this season.
The Sens have missed Spezza and Alfredsson’s presence on the power play. Ottawa is just 2-for-38 (5.3%) with the extra man in its last 11 games. The Senators’ lone goal in Tuesday’s loss to Boston came on the power play. They were 1-for-5 with the extra skater in that game.
Ottawa has struggled at the other end of the ice. Its 2.93 team GAA is 21st in the league and Senators goaltenders have combined to produce a save pct. below the .900 threshold. Goalie Pascal Leclaire was acquired from Columbus last season to be the top man in net for the Senators, but he missed more than a month of action with a fractured cheekbone. Sophomore goaltender Brian Elliott played reasonably well in Leclaire’s absence, appearing in 15 straight games at one point.
The Sens have surrendered at least one power play goal in five of their last seven games and are just 16-for-24 (66.7%) on the penalty kill during that span.