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Capitals stay with hot hand, Grubauer to face Senators

by Mike Battaglino

CAPITALS (20-14-5) at SENATORS (16-18-7)


Last 10: Washington 5-2-3; Ottawa 4-4-2

Season series: The Ottawa Senators defeated the Washington Capitals 6-4 on Nov. 27. Ottawa scored three times in the third period; Zack Smith broke a 4-4 tie with 2:23 remaining. Bobby Ryan's second goal was into an empty net.

Big story: Philipp Grubauer gets the start again for the Capitals. He is 5-1-2 this month, his first in the NHL, after a 2-1 shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday. Braden Holtby has played once since Dec. 18 and allowed five goals in each of his past two games.

"[Holtby] is the man," coach Adam Oates told CSN Washington in reference to his No. 1 goalie. "He's been our man. [Grubauer] is playing good right now. That allows [Holtby] to work on his game."

Team Scope:

Capitals: Holtby, who will sit and watch again, had a 10-3-0 stretch from Oct. 14 through Nov. 17; he is 3-4-2 since, with five games of at least four goals against.

"Any type of adversity is a chance to improve yourself," Holtby told CSN. "It's never fun when you're going through it. It's frustrating and everything you don't want emotionally, but what true professionals do, and in the end what winners can do, is you take adversity and use it to your advantage, and that's what I'm trying to do."

Holtby, 24, entered the season as a contender to make the Canada Olympic team.

"It has been different for me. Usually, I can get right back in after a bad start and work my way out of it," he said. "This situation is a little different. You deal with what you're dealt and the only real way to get out of it is smart work and belief in yourself."

Senators: Ottawa responded after a dressing down from alternate captain Chris Neil following a 5-0 loss to the Boston Bruins on Friday with a 4-3 win against the Bruins in the second of a home-and-home Saturday night.

"He's a leader on this team and it's his job to do that," defenseman Marc Methot told the Senators website Sunday. "He had some choice words, basically just saying that we had to pick it up, and that's the simplest terms I can put it. Obviously it was a pretty [bad] effort that we put forth in Boston and we heard about it. He was reaming into us pretty good."

Ottawa is one of the first teams to the halfway mark (41 games) of its schedule and is using it as a new jumping-off point.

"We kind of wanted to start on a clean slate here and we kind of made that clear before the game [Saturday]," Methot said. "That was something we had in mind, that we'd put the first part of the season behind our backs and just focus here on the second half and try to get a lot more wins. That's the only way you'll get into the playoffs."

Ottawa will be without captain Jason Spezza (lower body) for a second straight game after the forward was a late scratch Saturday, and defenseman Chris Phillips (lower body) is unlikely to play. Coach Paul MacLean said each may be available Thursday and there would be no immediate call-ups from Binghamton of the American Hockey League.

"We might just stay the way we are until we need somebody," MacLean said Sunday. "We didn't mind the way the team played last night, but I haven't talked to Bryan (Murray, general manager) yet today either to see who's playing well down there and might deserve an opportunity."

Who's hot: The Capitals had 50 shots on goal against Buffalo; forward Alex Ovechkin had 12. Forward Troy Brouwer has seven points in his past six games. … Senators goalie Craig Anderson, who will play Monday, has won two in a row. Forward Cory Conacher and defenseman Cody Ceci each has three points in his past three games.

Injury report: Capitals forward Brook Laich (groin) missed his second straight game after playing Dec. 23, his first since Nov. 27. Defenseman Jack Hillen (tibia) and forward Michael Latta (lower body) are out. … MacLean said Spezza's lower-body injury is unrelated to a groin injury from earlier this season or to his back surgery last season.

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