OTTAWA -- Ottawa Senators defenseman Chris Phillips and Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin have had their battles over the years.
They will meet again when the Capitals play the Senators at Canadian Tire Centre on Thursday, when Phillips will set the Senators record for most games played. It will be Phillips' 1,179th game, all with the Senators, and one more than retired captain Daniel Alfredsson, who is expected to be on hand.
Ovechkin, second in the NHL with 31 goals, said Phillips' record is "a huge accomplishment." He remembered Phillips being part of a tough group of Ottawa defenders with Zdeno Chara and Anton Volchenkov in the early and mid-2000s.
"He was one of the top toughest defensemen out there when we played against Ottawa," he said. "I remember Chara and him and Volcheknov. Those guys were very hard to play against."
"It's very impressive, to be honest with you," Ovechkin said of Phillips' record. "It shows the team loves him, the fans love him and the organization was with him all the time."
"Having longevity in the game is something we all strive for and to have a record that recognizes that makes me feel pretty proud of that accomplishment," Phillips said.
The job of shutting down Ovechkin on Thursday will fall to others on the Senators, whose inconsistency has stalled their attempt to make a push for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Since winning two straight games Dec. 29 and Jan. 3, the Senators are 4-6-2 and are 11 points out of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
With Senators No. 1 goaltender Craig Anderson still out with a hand injury, Robin Lehner will start his fourth game in a row. Like Ottawa, Lehner has been inconsistent this season, but has shown signs of improvement. After giving up four goals to the Dallas Stars in a 6-3 loss in his first game after Anderson's injury, Lehner has allowed two goals in each of his past two games, a 7-2 win against the Phoenix Coyotes and a 2-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils.
The Capitals hold the first wild-card position in the Eastern Conference thanks in large part to a stretch of 19 games Dec. 4-Jan. 19 in which they had one regulation loss (14-1-4). The wins have been harder to come by lately, but they are off a 4-0 win against the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday. That was their second win in their past eight games (2-4-2).
"We had good detail and good execution of the forecheck [against the Kings]," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "We kept our structure the whole game. I thought our game was pretty complete in terms of the discipline and the work ethic and the detail and the structure. When you do that against a team like the Kings we were able to keep them at bay a little bit. They had a few shifts where we got a little nervous. I thought we did a good job of keeping them from doing what they do really well."
Though he's looking forward to celebrating Phillips' record, Senators wing Chris Neil said the team can't be distracted given their perilous spot in the standings.
"It'll be exciting," Neil said. "We can't get caught too much in the emotions though. We've still got to go out and win a hockey game. That's the bottom line here."
Here are the projected lineups:
Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – Marcus Johansson
Andre Burakovsky – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Troy Brouwer
Brooks Laich – Eric Fehr – Joel Ward
Aaron Volpatti – Jay Beagle – Tom Wilson
Brooks Orpik – John Carlson
Karl Alzner – Matt Niskanen
Jack Hillen – Mike Green
Scratched: Jason Chimera, Michael Latta
Injured: Dmitry Orlov (wrist), John Erskine (neck)
Clarke MacArthur – Mika Zibanejad – Bobby Ryan
Mike Hoffman – Kyle Turris – Curtis Lazar
Milan Michalek – David Legwand – Mark Stone
Erik Condra – Jean-Gabriel Pageau – Chris Neil
Marc Methot - Erik Karlsson
Jared Cowen - Cody Ceci
Chris Phillips - Eric Gryba
Scratched: Patrick Wiercioch, Mark Borowiecki
Injured: Craig Anderson (hand), Zack Smith (wrist), Alex Chiasson (upper body)
Status report: Anderson, who injured his blocker hand against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 21, has been skating on his own. No date has been set for his return. … Chiasson was injured against the Stars on Jan. 29 and will miss his third game Thursday. … With eight defensemen, Senators coach Dave Cameron continues to juggle the roster game-to-game with Borowiecki and Wiercioch each sitting out Thursday. … Based on the morning skate, it looked like there's a chance Latta could go into the Capitals lineup on the fourth line at the expense of Wilson.
Who's hot: Ovechkin has a two-game point streak (two goals, two assists). … Backstrom has one goal and three assists in his past four games. … Green has three assists in his past two games.