|The Washington Capitals have been one of the NHL’s biggest mysteries this season, beginning with their red-hot 7-0-0 start to the year. They looked unbeatable and made quick work of some of the league’s best clubs en route to their franchise-best start, including a 7-1 thrashing of the Detroit Red Wings in the nation’s capital. |
But for whatever reason, the Capitals went stale and changes had to be made. Washington fired head coach Bruce Boudreau on Nov. 28 and replaced with Dale Hunter, the former head coach of the OHL’s London Knights and a one-time captain of the Capitals. It was not an easy transition for the Capitals under Hunter, who lost three of the first four games under their new bench boss. A star player who learned to be a gritty, two-way forward later in his career, Hunter has brought defensive stability and a well-rounded team game to Washington and the club has improved its play of late.
Entering tonight’s game in Columbus, the Capitals (40 points) sit one point out of the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot – a position GM George McPhee could not have envisioned his team would occupy at the dawn of 2012. It has been an uncharacteristically quiet season for Alex Ovechkin, who has scored 14 goals in his first 36 games and is well off the scoring pace he set in previous seasons.
You know it’s a bizarre season when defenseman Dennis Wideman, who was acquired in a cost-cutting move by the Florida Panthers, is the Capitals’ third-leading scorer. Former Blue Jackets winger Jason Chimera is second in goal-scoring for Washington with 13 on the year, tied with Nicklas Backstrom and one behind Ovechkin. To their credit, the Capitals have managed to stay in the race under Hunter’s new system and despite a decline in production from their captain and best player.
The Capitals played last night at home and defeated the Buffalo Sabres 3-1, and Hunter opted to start Tomas Vokoun in goal. That means that Michal Neuvirth, who has had his ups and downs this season, stands a good chance of starting tonight’s game at Nationwide Arena.
| || || |
|Nash (12) ||Ovechkin (14) |
|Prospal (20) ||Backstrom (25) |
|Prospal (27) ||Backstrom (38) |
|Dorsett (80) ||Erskine (43) |
|MacKenzie (+8) ||Alzner (+14) |
|Sanford (5-6-3) |
|Vokoun (14-8-0) |
|Sanford (2.66) ||Vokoun (2.60) |
|Sanford (.908) ||Vokoun (.913) || |
|• Columbus snapped a six-game winless skid (0-5-1) with a 4-1 win at Dallas this past Thursday. In the midst of playing eight of 10 on the road, tonight’s home game is the precursor to a four-game road trip. |
• Rick Nash scored his first goal in four games with his team leading 11th and 12th goals of the season this past Thursday at Dallas. It marked his second multi-goal outing of the season and first since Nov. 25 vs. Buffalo, a span of 14 games. He has collected 5-5-10 the last 13 games and 8-6-14 the last 18 games after being held to 1-3-4 the previous 10 games.
• Ryan Johansen has points in three of the last four games after notching an assist on Nash’s first goal this past Thursday at Dallas. He has 2-2-4 the last four games after being held pointless the previous 10 games.
• Ovechkin snapped out of a home-ice scoring funk with a pair of goals last night vs. the Sabres, his 12th and 13th tallies of the season.
• Tonight marks the lone meeting this season between the Blue Jackets and Capitals. Columbus is 4-5-4 all-time against Washington, including a 2-3-2 mark at Nationwide Arena. Five of the 13 meetings have been decided in overtime or a shootout, including two of the last three.
• Marc Methot picked up his first assist in eight games with a helper Dec. 29 at Dallas. He has 1-5-6 in his last 20 games after being held pointless the previous 45.
C - #19
• The Capitals drafted Backstrom fourth overall in 2006 with the idea he would eventually center Ovechkin on Washington’s top line. He had a 69-point rookie season in 2007-08, but really burst on the scene with 101 points in 2009-10.
D Radek Martinek (concussion); indefinitely
LW Kristian Huselius (lower body); indefinitely