January 16 vs. Vancouver Canucks at Verizon Center
Time: 3:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM
Ottawa Senators (17-22-6)
Washington Capitals (24-14-7)
The Caps conclude a quick two-game homestand on Sunday afternoon when they host the Ottawa Senators for the second and final time this season.
Exactly four weeks ago, Washington went into Ottawa as a desperate hockey club with the burden of an eight-game winless streak (0-6-2) and the need to turn things around in a hurry. Fater falling behind 2-0 in the game’s first 20 minutes, the Caps stopped the bleeding with a 3-2 win over the Senators that night.
Starting with that win, the Caps went on to gain a point in each of nine straight games (6-0-3).
When the Sens hit town on Sunday, the shoe will be on the other foot. Ottawa has just one win in its last eight games (1-5-2) and there have been whispers of impending changes behind the bench if things don’t start to turn around soon.
Ottawa hits the District on Sunday as a desperate team, as desperate as the Caps were four weeks ago. But Washington has hit a speed bump of its own and believes it badly needs a win on Sunday, too.
“We’ve lost three in a row now, too,” says Caps forward Brooks Laich. “So it’s a desperate time for us. They had a six-game losing streak, then they beat the Islanders and they lost [Friday] night. So we’re not far off from being in the same boat. Winning streaks tend to follow losing streaks and losing streaks tend to follow winning streaks. Maybe they haven’t had success and they’re going to turn it around now.”
Since their 3-1 win over Pittsburgh in the Winter Classic, the Caps are just 1-2-2. They’re 0-2-1 in three games earlier this week. Most recently, they suffered a 4-2 loss at the hands of the high-flying Vancouver Canucks at Verizon Center on Friday.
The loss to the Canucks was Washington’s 14th regulation setback in 45 games this season. The Capitals suffered only 15 regulation losses all season in 2009-10 when they established a single-season franchise standard with 121 points.
“I think we’re just as desperate as them,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “So it’s two desperate clubs going at it, I think. The conference is so close, it’s 13 points [separating the teams] from ninth to first. Every team needs every win they can get. I don’t think they need it any more than we do.
“It was just four days ago that we were 6-0-3 in our last nine, and now you can sit here and say we’re 0-3 in our last three. It happens so fast. The consistency of an NHL team these days has to be so good or else you tumble.”
Washington fell behind the Canucks 3-1 after the game’s first 40 minutes before putting together a passionate and energized performance in the third, albeit one that fell short of producing any standings points.
The Caps would love to carry over that momentum into Sunday’s game and beyond.
“We have to have a pretty good start,” says caps captain Alex Ovechkin. “[Sunday] it’s going to be important to give them pressure right away and show them how we have to play. If we give them energy and some pressure it’s going to work for us, and it won’t work for them.”
First-period passion and urgency has been lacking from Washington’s game of late. In their last five contests, the Capitals have been outshot 67-34 and outscored 6-1 in the game’s first frame.
“That’s what we talked about today,” says Boudreau. “It’s something that has to be there. You have to have passion and you have to have the want to come to the rink every day and realize how great an opportunity we have doing what we’re doing.
“I was watching a movie after the game the other night. I was watching ‘The Rookie’ with Dennis Quaid. And I just turned it on at the point where he is being called up to the big leagues. Here’s a 38-year-old man and he was crying on the phone. I know it’s acting and all, but that’s the feeling you have to [have] to get a chance to play in this league. Sometimes you wonder if people take it for granted. The whole idea of passion comes at a really good time.”
After Sunday’s game against the Sens, Washington will play 10 of its next 15 games on the road. The Caps are just 9-9-2 away from Verizon Center this season, where they are 15-5-5.
Ottawa won its first four games in the month of November to go two games to the good at 8-6-1, but it has won as many as two consecutive games only once since, and it only won two in a row before dropping its next half dozen contests.
Immediately after the Capitals ended their eight-game winless streak at the Senators’ expense, Ottawa won its next two. The Sens then dropped six straight (0-4-2) before returning to the win column with a 6-4 road triumph over the Islanders on Thursday.
Ottawa dropped a 3-2 home ice decision to the Flames on Friday.
“They’ve had some injuries,” says Laich of his former team. “I think [Alexei] Kovalev is still out and [Jason] Spezza is still out. That gives a greater opportunity to the rest of their bunch and their guys are going to be excited to play those [extra] minutes.
“For us, Eric Fehr is now going to be out for a bit. There should be no reason why we have any sort of letdown. Guys should come to the rink and we should be excited to play, just ready to launch at 3 o’clock [Sunday].”
The Capitals will recall a forward from AHL Hershey – almost certainly right wing Andrew Gordon – prior to Sunday’s game with the Sens.
Rookie Washington center Marcus Johansson continues to ramp up his play and Boudreau continues to ramp up his ice time as a result. Johansson skated 15 or more minutes only twice in his first 27 games this season, but has done so in four of his last five games now.
“He’s earned it,” says Boudreau of Johansson. “He’s playing great. He’s reminding me of [Nicklas Backstrom] my first year. He started slow and as the season got along and he got more acclimated to the league he became a great player. It’s unfortunate that we haven’t been able to stay with the same group of players for him to play with, but injuries and lack of production in other areas have dictated otherwise.”
Johansson has scored three times in the last three games, doubling his season total to six in the process.
“He is handling the puck so much better which comes with confidence,” says Boudreau. “When he gets it he feels like he can beat guys or he can skate with it. Early in the season he’s getting it and going, ‘Holy geez, it’s the NHL. I better give it to somebody.’ That’s part of growing up.
“I hope he keeps it up because you can see sparks that he is going to be a fine player, a really good player.”
Notes: Fehr, injured in a third-period collision with teammate David Steckel against the Canucks, will be out for the better part of a month. “He has an upper body injury,” says Boudreau. “[He’ll be out] three to four weeks.” … Alexander Semin has missed each of the last three games with a lower body ailment sustained in a Jan. 8 game against the Panthers. There is no update on Semin or his condition, according to Boudreau: “None. No timetable,” came the terse reply in response to the Semin query.