February 11 vs. Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank Place
Time: 7:30 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Pre-Cap Podcast at 2 p.m. on www.washingtoncaps.com
Washington Capitals (41-12-7)
Ottawa Senators (34-22-4)
The Eastern Conference’s two hottest teams go head-to-head in Ottawa on Thursday when the Washington Capitals make their second and final visit to Canada’s capital region.
Washington had its 14-game winning streak snapped in Montreal on Wednesday night, dropping a 6-5 overtime decision to the Habs. But the Caps went down swinging, roaring back from a 5-2 third-period deficit to tie the game in the final seconds of regulation. The Caps missed a chance to push the game to a shootout when Montreal’s Tomas Plekanec was left alone on the doorstep to pot the game-winner with just 7.5 seconds remaining in the extra session.
The Caps will seek to start another streak against the Sens, but they’ll have to do so without benefit of a practice.
“I guess we’re going to have to watch video and hope guys are committed to doing the right things,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “The first two periods [against Montreal] we weren’t committed to doing too many things right. Too much swinging and floating and when you do that, you’re not going to win.”
Good health hovered over the Caps throughout the streak, but a few injuries have crept into the Capitals’ locker room in the last couple of days. Speedy left wing Jason Chimera is day-to-day with a lower body injury. Stalwart defenseman Tom Poti is day-to-day, also with a lower body ailment. Goaltender Michal Neuvirth left Wednesday’s game in Montreal with what was termed a “minor” injury.
Washington may also be a bit on the weary side for Thursday night’s game with the Senators. Playing in their first game of back-to-backs and in their first game of a three-game road trip in a span of just four nights, the Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin (29:30) and Nicklas Backstrom (26:14) both logged season-high ice time totals against the Canadiens. Caps defenseman Mike Green (30:52) skated more than 30 minutes for the first time in more than a month and logged the most ice he’s had since Nov. 21 against the Maple Leafs.
Washington’s attention to detail began to slip during the waning games of the streak. The Caps allowed just 22 goals in the first 11 games of the streak for an average of exactly two per contest. Washington was then exploited for 17 goals over the next four games, an average of 4.25 per game.
The Capitals allowed seven power play goals in the first 11 games of the streak. They surrendered six extra-man strikes in the four games since.
While Washington still leads the league by a wide margin with an average of 3.92 goals per game, the Caps have allowed 2.75 goals per contest. They had crept up to 11th in the league in that department last week, but Wednesday’s dismal defensive showing drops them back to 17th in the circuit.
Washington has permitted 35 or more shots on goal in each of its last five games, the first time it has done so in more than three years. The last time the Caps allowed 35 or more shots in five straight games was from Jan. 18-30, 2007. They allowed 18 goals in those five contests.
“We’ve got to regroup and get back to winning ways against a good hockey team [Thursday],” says Caps center Brooks Laich, who notched the first hat trick of his NHL career in a losing effort against the Canadiens. Laich has now reached the 20-goal plateau for the third consecutive season. He becomes the fifth Capital to reach that milestone in 2009-10.
While Washington has won 14 of its last 15 games, Ottawa has won 12 of its last 13. With 72 points this season, the surprising Senators are tied with Buffalo for the top spot in the NHL’s Northeast Division standings. Ottawa is 22-8-3 on home ice this season.
After the Toronto Maple Leafs snapped Ottawa’s own team-record winning streak at 11 games on Saturday night with a 5-0 whitewashing of the Sens, Ottawa returned to the win column on Tuesday when it slipped past Calgary by a 3-2 count. Sens center Jason Spezza supplied the game-winner against the Flames; it was his 10th goal in as many games.
It has been more than a month since the Senators tasted defeat on Scotiabank ice. Ottawa has won six straight at home dating back to Jan. 9 when it dropped a 3-0 home ice decision to the Florida Panthers.
Ottawa has won three straight against Washington at Scotiabank Place, although the Caps did pick up a point in two of those defeats. Sens center Mike Fisher, who is slated to play in his 600th career game on Thursday, scored the overtime game-winners in both of those Ottawa overtime wins over Washington in each of the last two Novembers.
Journeyman goaltender Mike Brodeur was between the pipes for the first two games of Ottawa’s winning streak, but sophomore NHL netminder Brian Elliott manned the twine for the last nine, and he has been the starter for each of the team’s last 11 games overall. Elliott was in goal for 15 straight games earlier this season. Although Elliott is 2-0 lifetime against the Caps, his 3.77 career GAA and .880 save pct. against Washington are less than stellar.
Senators goaltender Pascal Leclaire has been hampered by injuries this season. He is without a win in his last six outings (four starts), covering calendar 2010. Leclaire’s last win came on Dec. 31 vs. the New York Islanders. He is 0-2 with a 3.50 GAA and an .889 save pct. during his career against the Capitals.