March 25 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 washingtoncaps.com
Washington Capitals (43-21-10)
Ottawa Senators (28-37-9)
Having clinched a berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs by virtue of their 5-4 shootout win over the Flyers in Philadelphia on Tuesday, the Capitals now set about the business of preparing for those playoffs. They must first play out the remainder of their 2010-11 regular season schedule, a docket that delivers them to Ottawa for a Friday night date with the Senators.
“We want to do the small things right,” says Caps center Nicklas Backstrom of his team, which has won 11 of its last 12 contests. “The system is very important, especially in the playoffs. We talk about it all the time, [watch] video clips and we practice it out there. It’s a huge thing for us, and we’re trying to get better and better.”
As the standings currently look, six of Washington’s final eight regular season foes are on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. Only Montreal (March 26) and Buffalo (April 2) figure to qualify for a chance at Lord Stanley’s grail, and of the other half dozen enemy teams on the slate, only the Carolina Hurricanes (March 29) have what currently passes for anything resembling a “reasonable” chance at dislodging one of the current top eight.
In Tuesday’s game against the Flyers, the Caps were guilty of sitting back a bit after gaining an early 3-0 advantage. Four unanswered Philly goals put Washington down a goal late, but the Capitals rebounded to force overtime on a clutch Marcus Johansson goal with just 3:19 remaining in regulation.
The Flyers gave the Caps fits deep in their own end in that game, breaking down some of the sturdy defensive structure that Washington has exhibited over most of the last 40-plus games. Philadelphia made Washington look a bit ragged in its own end, and the Caps would like to button down that area of their game once again in Ottawa on Friday.
“I think we definitely had a little letdown there in Philly,” admits defenseman John Erskine. “We allowed four goals there. It’s uncharacteristic of our team. We had a good practice [Thursday] and went over a few things. I think [Friday] is a good chance for us to get back and get back to our good defensive game there.”
“We want to do the same work that we did in the past couple of road games,” says Backstrom. “It’s important games. You want to finish off this road trip real good so you have confidence when you come into your home games.
On their previous visit to Ottawa this season (Dec. 19), the Caps came away with a 3-2 comeback win over the Senators, who led 2-0 after the first 20 minutes of play that night. Washington rebounded to earn the win, halting an eight-game winless streak (0-6-2) in the process.
Starting with that game in Ottawa more than three months ago, the Capitals have been extremely successful on the road. Washington is now 15-5-2 in its last 22 road contests. Four of its five regulation losses during that stretch have come by a single goal, and the Caps have surrendered more than two goals in just eight of those 22 tilts.
When Washington scores three or more goals this season, it has a virtually bulletproof 36-0-3 record.
“We have confidence in every game,” declares Caps defenseman Scott Hannan. “You’re winning on the road, you’re playing the right way. I think our type of hockey right now, the way we’re playing, we’re not giving up much as far as quality scoring chances other than a few games and some breakdowns. That’s an ability to win on the road when you can play that way and we’re getting some key scoring at key times.
“I think we’ve really settled down our game over the last little while. We still need things to work on, just like every team does. When you’re going over stuff, it’s good to look over these [things]. especially when your team is going good. It’s easier to look at the video and see the play when you win at the end of the night and know that you could have done things better at certain times, but in the end you came out with the win and you work on that stuff in practice.”
Goaltender Michal Neuvirth started and won that Dec. 19 game at Ottawa. He is expected to get the start in Friday's game here, too. Neuvirth is 3-0-0 lifetime with a 1.63 GAA and a .938 save pct. in three lieftime starts against the Senators. Semyon Varlamov is slated to get the start in the road trip-concluding contest on Saturday in Montreal. Varlamov os 3-0-1 with a shutout (on Dec. 28), a 1.45 GAA and a .950 save pct. in four career starts in the regular season against the Habs in his NHL career. Varlamov started and won a Saturday night, Hockey Night in Canada contest in his NHL debut on Dec. 13, 2008, a 2-1 triumph ver the Canadiens.
With a 10-1 record in the month of March and four games remaining until the calendar turns to April, the Capitals have a chance to etch some franchise history for themselves. Washington’s franchise record best month of March was achieved in the 1983-84 season when the team went 11-2-1 for an .821 points pct. in a 14-game March slate.
The most wins the Capitals have ever recorded in any month is 13 in January, 2010. The most points the Capitals have ever accrued in a single month is 26. They’ve done so twice; going 12-2-2 in December of 1984 and 13-2 in January of 2010.
Mired in the basement of the Eastern Conference standings, the Senators have the worst goal differential in the conference and are just playing out the string of a disappointing campaign.
With just 65 points, Ottawa is virtually guaranteed its worst finish since it finished 18-59-5 (41 points) to end up sixth in the Northeast Division back in 1995-96. The Senators are 29th in the league in goals scored and 26th in goals against this season.
Despite their poor showing in the standings this season, the Sens have been reasonably effective on special teams in 2010-11. Ottawa currently ranks 11th in the league in penalty killing and 17th in the circuit in power play prowess.
The Sens come into Friday’s game on the heels of a 2-1 shootout win over the Rangers in New York on Thursday night. Ottawa has been playing the role of spoiler well over the last several weeks; the Senators have defeated the Lightning and Devils twice each in addition to wins over the Rangers and Flyers.