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NHL's hottest teams, Caps and Senators, square off

by John Kreiser

CAPITALS (41-12-7) at SENATORS (34-22-4)

Last 10 - Washington 9-0-1; Ottawa 9-1-0

Season series - The teams are meeting for the third time this season after splitting the first two. Ottawa won 4-3 in overtime at Scotiabank Place on Nov. 22, while the Caps cruised to a 5-2 win at the VerizonCenter on Jan. 7.

Big story - Though these are the two hottest teams in the NHL, there could have been a lot more riding on this game. Ottawa had its 11-game winning streak snapped with a 5-0 loss at Toronto on Saturday, while Washington's 6-5 overtime loss at Montreal on Wednesday ended the Caps' 14-game winning streak. Still, a matchup between a team that's 14-0-1 in its last 15 and another that's 12-1-0 in its last 13 is about as good as it gets in the regular season.

Team Scope:

Capitals - The Caps didn't go down without a fight in Montreal, scoring three times in the third period and forcing overtime when Brooks Laich completed his first NHL hat trick with 18;4 seconds remaining. But Tomas Plekanec scored with 8 seconds left in OT to snap the Caps' winning streak three games short of the NHL record held by the 1992-93 Penguins.

"We always battle hard," coach Bruce Boudreau said after his team nearly overcame three-goal deficits to win back-to-back games. "Normally we'd say that was a good point, but we were trying to do something special so it's a deflating loss. I think it was 7 seconds left to get to the shootout where we would have felt pretty confident tonight that we would have been successful, but those things happen."

Senators - The challenge of trying to slow down the Capitals is one that the Senators are eagerly looking forward to.

"I guess you could say that," Senators coach Cory Clouston said Wednesday with a grin that suggested he's eagerly anticipating the opportunity to defuse the NHL's highest-scoring attack. "They're playing very well. They're playing with a lot of confidence, they've got a lot of weapons and some good goaltending. So it's going to be a tough challenge."

Who's hot - On the Capitals, just about everyone. But no one has been hotter than Alex Ovechkin, who extended his points streak to eight games with a pair of assists on Wednesday. He has 9 goals and 18 points during the run. … Ottawa goaltender Brian Elliott is 10-1-0 with a 1.59 goals-against average in his last 11 starts.

Injury report - Caps goaltender Michal Neuvirth left Wednesday's game in the second period with an undisclosed injury. That could mean the return of Semyon Varlamov, who's on the trip but hasn't played since Dec. 7 due to a groin injury. … Ottawa is still without forward Nick Foligno (broken leg) and defenseman Erik Karlsson (shoulder).

Stat pack -- Ovechkin had one of the greatest nights of his career in an 8-6 victory at Ottawa on Dec. 29, 2007. He scored four goals and added an assist that night. Since then, the Caps have lost their last three visits to Scotiabank Place -- and Ovechkin had just one assist in the three games.

Puck drop - The Capitals are scoring goals in bunches; the Senators have thrived by shutting down the opposition. The 19,000-plus fans who will turn out at Scotiabank Place figure to be in for a treat, even though there are no record winning streaks to be had.

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