SENATORS (12-11-2) at CAPITALS (12-11-1)
TV: CBC, RDS, CSN-MA
Ottawa 5-4-1; Washington 2-7-1
The Capitals won the first meeting of the season 2-1 on Oct. 15. Washington has won four of five against Ottawa since the beginning of last season, but neither team has scored more than three goals in any of the five contests.
Washington hopes to win for the first time with new coach Dale Hunter while Ottawa hopes to continue its success within the division this season in the first of three straight against Southeast teams.
Toronto earned a couple of decisive victories against Southeast teams recently, but Ottawa is 5-1-0 against the division this season. The Senators' lone loss was to the Capitals, but they’ve reeled off five straight wins against the division since.
The most recent contest for Ottawa was a 3-2 loss in Dallas on Thursday night, but the two previous were victories against Winnipeg and Carolina. Goaltender Craig Anderson
's overall numbers don't look great, but he's won five of his past seven starts and he sports a .912 save percentage in that span despite allowing four goals on eight shots in a loss to Pittsburgh.
Two games into the Hunter era, and the Capitals have two losses by identical 2-1 scores. There were also similar themes, even though the loss to the Penguins involved more intensity and physical play.
Washington has to find more shots, and more shot attempts. St. Louis and Pittsburgh heavily outshot the Capitals, and in both games Washington had two periods with very few shots and one where they were OK. The other issue is goaltender Tomas Vokoun
has let in a soft goal that proved to be the game-winner in each contest. If the Capitals are going to play tight-checking, low-scoring games, they need more shots on net and can’t afford to yield a deflating, suspect goal against every night.
Who's Hot: Milan Michalek
scored again against Dallas, and now has three in the past two contests and 15 on the year for the Senators. He's third in the League and more than halfway to his career-high of 26, set in 2006-07 with San Jose. … Jason Chimera
scored Washington's lone goal against Pittsburgh, and he now leads the Capitals with 10 this season. That's only seven shy of his career best.
Right wing Chris Neil
(sprained ankle) has missed three weeks for the Senators, but could return against the Capitals. Defenseman Filip Kuba
missed the Dallas game with an upper-body injury and is questionable. Defenseman Matt Carkner
(knee) is with Binghamton of the American Hockey League on a rehab assignment and could make his season debut soon. … Washington defenseman Roman Hamrlik
missed the loss to Pittsburgh with a lower-body injury. The Capitals are already without top defenseman Mike Green
, who has missed 16 of the past 17 games with ankle and groin injuries.
Goal prevention, particularly when short a man, has been a problem for Ottawa. The Senators are 29th in the League in goals against per game at 3.40, but they’ve also allowed a League-high 22 tallies when 4-on-5. They rank slightly higher on the penalty kill (25th) but the Senators spend too much time in the box -- they've been shorthanded 112 times, which is the second-most in the NHL.
The Capitals are outside the top eight in the Eastern Conference this late in the season for the first time since Bruce Boudreau's first season (2007-08). They were eighth the day Hunter took over, but the two losses dropped them to 10th, and only a late goal by the Sharks and subsequent shootout victory spared them from falling to 11th.
Still, figuring out how to play and be successful in Hunter's new system remains more of a priority than worrying about playoff position at this stage of the campaign.
"The guys all know that it can happen. We're all ready for that," Karl Alzner
said. "I don't think anybody is going to get down. It doesn't matter if you're first in the east or eighth in the East, just get to playoffs and figure it out from there."