GOTS - Venturing Capitals
Sens Central Moderator
It’s been an unusually long time since the last time the Capitals and Senators met early on in the season – and a lot has happened between then and tonight’s rematch (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet, TVA, Team 1200).
Mika Zibanejad was named the No. 1 star in the 3-2 home victory over the Caps on Jan. 29. It was his season debut in place of the injured Jason Spezza, who has yet to return to the lineup after having to undergo back surgery.
Zibanejad — who turns 20 today — has made the most of his opportunity since then, as have all the callups from Binghamton due to the cascade of injuries following Spezza’s setback.
Yet, it was Washington that continued to struggle after that loss, which put the squad at 1-4-1. Alex Ovechkin was not much of a factor in the game, and struggled to find the back of the net in many games that followed. The Caps, not surprisingly, were in free fall.
Conversely, it was the resilient Sens who continued to climb the standings despite the injury woes. Only did a recent five-game losing streak threaten to derail any playoff hopes before they strung together three straight victories.
As for the Caps? You wouldn’t have guessed it in the weeks following their setback to the Sens, but they’re officially the hottest team in the NHL, owners of an eight-game winning streak and 9-0-1 in their last 10 games.
Their torrid rise to third in the Eastern Conference, combined with the Sens’ recent slide to sixth means the two capital cities are on a collision course to meet in the postseason for the first time since the Caps took a five-game, second-round series in 1998.
“It’s going to be a challenge (facing them tonight) for sure – I guess Ovechkin’s figured out the right wing,” said coach Paul MacLean on Caps head coach Adam Oates’ decision to shift his superstar to the right side, that has paid dividends. “He’s obviously playing pretty well over there although I keep seeing him shooting the puck in from the left-wing side, but he’s obviously shooting the puck very well and finding the back of the net.”
It might well be the understatement of the month, considering how the Caps have been ripping up the league. Ovechkin has 19 goals since March 14, and the team has gone 14-3-1 during that stretch.
Oates told the Washington Times last week that drawing positives from a 2-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 23 helped turn things around.
“That was an important game for us because it turned (out) to be a little bit of a launch for us in terms of playing well. So many good things came out of that game.”
The Sens will certainly have their hands full tonight as both teams look to inch closer to playoff spots – spots that for both clubs, at certain points following their January clash, seemed like longshots.
“This is going to be a nice challenge for us,” defenceman Marc Methot told the Ottawa Citizen. “I know we’re ready for them. They’re hot right now, but we’ve got goaltending, we’ve got a strong defensive core that can handle it, so I’m confident we’re going to be able to do the job.”
It only seems right that they’d play each other in the first round, should both get there.
GROUNDING THE JETS: Ahead of tonight’s tilt between the capital cities, both clubs know that the team in Manitoba’s capital will have a say in who makes the postseason. Washington sits in third place in the East as the Southeast Division leader, and owns the head-to-head tiebreak over the ninth-place Winnipeg Jets, who can max out at 56 points. The Caps have 50 points, so three wins or three Jets regulation losses will punch the Caps’ ticket, assuming the Jets finish with less overall wins. That tiebreak scenario also applies to the sixth-place Sens, who also have 50 points but also have a game at hand over the two other clubs due to this past Monday’s matchup vs. the Boston Bruins being postponed to April 28 because of the Boston Marathon bombings.
RAIN ZONE: The Red Zone was to open for the first time ahead of tonight’s game outside Gate 1 of Scotiabank Place, but due to inclement weather its debut will have to wait until at least Saturday for the Battle of Ontario.
TWITTER BEAT: Matt Kassian thinks the Prime Minister will be wearing a No. 28 jersey to tonight’s game … Zack Smith wishes his old White Hawks teammates in Sweden good luck as they gun for the league title … Mika Zibanejad notes that yesterday was his last as a teen.
WE ARE BOSTON: Yesterday’s game between the Bruins and the Buffalo Sabres was the first sporting event in Boston since the bombings. It featured a touching pre-game tribute to the three victims and the numerous injured, followed by what might have been the loudest rendition of a national anthem ever – 17,565 fans bellowing out the Star-Spangled Banner. Amazing job, Boston.