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Capitals look to snap skid, reclaim Southeast lead

by Brian Hunter /
CAPITALS (18-12-4) at SENATORS (14-16-4)


Last 10:
Washington 2-6-2; Ottawa 3-4-3

Season series:
Second of four meetings this season. Alex Ovechkin's goal with 32 seconds left in overtime gave the Capitals a 3-2 win on Oct. 11 at the Verizon Center. Alexander Semin and Eric Fehr had their regulation goals, which were answered by Jarkko Ruutu and Ryan Shannon of the Senators.

Big story:
Washington currently co-stars with Pittsburgh in the reality series "24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the NHL Winter Classic" by HBO Sports, previously known for its "Hard Knocks" series chronicling NFL teams during preseason. Hard knocks would describe quite well what the Caps are currently going through -- on Saturday night they lost 3-2 to the Bruins, their eighth consecutive defeat. In the process, they fell from first to third place in the Southeast Division, as both the Thrashers and Lightning won their games.

Team Scope:

Other than getting blown out 7-0 by the Rangers in New York last Sunday, Washington has played fairly competitive hockey during its skid -- but that's little comfort right now for a team that badly needs two points to restore some lost confidence. The Capitals fell behind 3-0 in the first period in Boston, then stormed back on goals by Matt Bradley and Karl Alzner and gave the Bruins a scare in the final seconds only to see Tim Thomas hold the fort. They ended up with a 26-2 advantage in shots over the last 20 minutes.

"You outshoot a team 26-2 in the third period and you hopefully come through with more than a loss," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "I really believed we were going to tie it tonight. You could feel it. Thomas has beat an awful lot of teams with great stuff, and he did it to us."

Senators: Three of the next four games for Ottawa will be played on home ice, and the Senators return to Scotiabank Place after collecting three of a possible four points on a brief road swing through Minnesota and Colorado. Except the Senators know they could have had all four points, as they let four separate one-goal leads slip away in a 6-5 overtime loss to the Avalanche on Friday. Twelve different players registered points, a welcome sign for a team that went through its share of offensive struggles earlier this month.

"We played hard and we did a lot of good things," coach Cory Clouston said. "We just didn't defend well enough, maybe, or get a save when we needed one. They're a good team and they pressure you. They make you pay for your mistakes."

Who's hot: Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson has 2 goals and 6 assists in his last six games, moving into second on the team in scoring behind captain Daniel Alfredsson, who has goals in each of the last three games. Chris Kelly has 1 goal and 4 assists during a four-game points streak.

Injury report: Washington has dealt with both injury and illness during this down period, with Semin missing each of the last two games with flu-like symptoms that struck several members of the team. Forward Boyd Gordon is out with a lower-body injury and three players are on injured reserve: forward DJ King (undisclosed) and defensemen Tyler Sloan (groin) and Jeff Schultz (broken thumb).

Stat pack: Ovechkin is mired in a rare goal slump for the Capitals, with just a pair over his last 16 games. … The six goals the Senators scored Friday were one more than they managed during an entire five-game stretch from Nov. 29-Dec. 7 in which they posted a 1-3-1 record.

Puck drop:
The biggest challenge for Ottawa on Sunday figures to be the first 20 minutes of the game, as Washington will look to establish itself early after a sluggish start against Boston proved costly.

"It was embarrassing for us," Alzner said. "We came in after the first period and said, 'We can't keep playing like that.' The first period killed us."

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