December 19 vs. Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank Place
Time: 7:30 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM
Washington Capitals (18-12-4)
Ottawa Senators (14-16-4)
The Caps close a quick two-game road trip with a Sunday night visit to Ottawa, their first road game against the Senators this season. The two teams met in the District back in October during the first week of the 2010-11 season. Washington won that one in overtime, 3-2.
Coming to town on the heels of Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the Bruins in Boston, Washington needs a win on Sunday against the Sens in order to avoid matching its longest winless streak in the last 29 years.
After starting the season with a 6-1 mark in their first seven one-goal games, the Capitals won just two of their last nine (2-3-4) one-goal affairs.
Last season, the Capitals’ 24-10-7 road record was the best in the NHL. The 2010-11 Caps are 6-8-1 on the road, and they’re 2-5-1 in their last eight road contests.
Saturday’s loss to the Bruins dropped Washington from first to third place in the Southeast Division standings and from third to seventh in the Eastern Conference standings. The Capitals fell out of the top spot in the division for the first time this late in the season since the waning days of the 2007-08 campaign (April 4, 2008).
The Caps poured a single-period franchise record 26 shots on the Boston nets in the third period of Saturday’s game, but their efforts resulted in just one goal. That Karl Alzner tally and Matt Bradley’s second period strike weren’t enough to bring the Caps back from the 3-0 hole they dug for themselves in the first period.
“Sometimes you’re sitting there when things aren’t going well and you’re just wishing you could get a break,” lamented Caps coach Bruce Boudreau after the Boston game. “We haven’t been getting them. We’ll just persevere and move on tomorrow.”
Boudreau tried four different wingers on a line with struggling stars Alex Ovechkin (two goals in his last 16 games) and Nicklas Backstrom (two goals in his last 11 games) against the Bruins in an effort to give the pair a jumpstart. After the Boston game, Boudreau was asked if there was anything there he could build on for Sunday’s game with the Senators.
“Hopefully,” says Boudreau. “I thought Eric Fehr did a good job in the third period out with them. Those are the two guys we’ve got to get going. They’re the engine that drives this bus. I know they’re trying real hard. Hopefully when they get one or two – and hopefully it’s very, very soon – then I think they’ll get back on track.”
Slated to be a healthy scratch against the Bruins, Fehr was inserted into the Caps’ lineup at the last minute when Mathieu Perreault fell ill with the flu that’s been coursing through the Caps’ locker room. Fehr logged 14:11, the most ice he’s seen in a game in nearly a month. He skated 6:25 and recorded a pair of shots on goal in the third period.
“I thought we had great energy on the forecheck,” says Fehr of Washington’s furious third period barrage of shots. “We were creating turnovers, we were getting pucks to the net. Thomas just found a way to get in front of pucks out there. He was scrambling and I think we had him on the ropes a few times. Either the d-men blocked it or the goalie made a big save. It was real close.”
Having expended all that energy over the latter part of the Boston game and traveling to Ottawa will take its toll on the Caps.
“We’ve got to bring the same kind of effort we did in the third period all game [Sunday] night,” says Fehr. “It’s not going to matter energy-wise. We’re a fit team and we’ll be ready to play.”
Saturday’s loss dropped Washington to 1-6-1 in the month of December. The Caps have five games remaining this month and would have to run the table to break even. They’ve not had a losing month since Nov. 2007 when Boudreau took over.
Although their minus-24 goal differential is tied for third worst in the NHL, the Sens currently reside in 10th place in the NHL’s Eastern Conference standings. Ottawa is six points behind eighth-place Boston.
Ottawa has not been able to put together back-to-back victories since it opened November with four straight wins, its longest winning streak of the season. That winning streak pushed Ottawa’s record to 8-6-1, but the Senators have gone 6-10-3 since.
The Sens currently have points in each of their last four contests (2-0-2).
Most recently, Ottawa absorbed a 6-5 overtime loss on Friday at the hands of the Avalanche in Colorado. That game concluded a two-game western trip in which the Sens traveled to Minnesota (a 3-1 win) and Colorado.
The Sens are a pedestrian 8-8-2 on home ice this season, but Washington is winless (0-2-2) in its last four visits to Scotiabank Place. The Capitals’ last road win at Ottawa was an 8-6 barnburner on Dec. 29, 2007. Alex Ovechkin scored four times for the Caps that night.
Notes: Sens defenseman Erik Karlsson assisted on all three Ottawa goals in Thursday’s win over the Wild, becoming the first Sens defenseman to record three assists in a road game since Wade Redden did it at Pittsburgh on Feb. 2, 2006.