It is the ultimate trap game, or so it would appear.
A slumping non-division rival popping up on the Ottawa Senators schedule, sandwiched between a pair of matchups with arguably their two biggest rivals.
But the streaking Senators hardly sound like a group that’s looking past the Washington Capitals, who’ve dropped 10 of their past 12 games. They expect a battle Thursday night at Scotiabank Place against the Eastern Conference’s current cellar dwellers (7:30 p.m., A-Channel, Team 1200).
“They’ve got skilled guys,” Senators defenceman Wade Redden said after Thursday’s pre-game skate. “It’s so early in the year, and that (slump) can turn around in a hurry.
“We know their personnel and what they’re capable of … we’ve got to be real good against them.”
Senators head coach John Paddock echoed that sentiment, saying any team with the explosive Alex Ovechkin in its lineup, along with skilled forward Michael Nylander and goaltender Olaf Kolzig, has to be taken seriously.
Especially in the wake of last Thursday’s matchup at Scotiabank Place, when Ilya Kovalchuk nearly stole a point – or more – for the Atlanta Thrashers singlehandedly. The Senators limited the Thrashers to six shots in building a 5-0 lead through two periods, but Kovalchuk’s third-period hat trick threw a scare into the home side before the Sens prevailed 6-4.
“You’re supposed to win hockey games. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing,” said Paddock. “Ovechkin and Nylander can play on any team in the league. You saw what Kovalchuk did in one period last week, and Ovechkin is certainly capable of that.
“That in itself tells you that, if you’re about five per cent off your game, you’ll lose.”
It’s been a while since the Senators tasted defeat. Since falling 5-3 at home to the Carolina Hurricanes on Oct. 11, the Sens have reeled off a team-record eight-game winning streak en route to a 13-1-0 start – the best in National Hockey League history.
Nobody wants to see any of that grind to an abrupt halt tonight against the Caps, who started out 3-0-0 themselves but have gone 2-9-1 since.
“Kolzig is a guy who can steal any game, so we’ve got to be ready for a challenge,” said captain Daniel Alfredsson
. “Every team usually has two really good lines now and if you don’t play solidly or take a nap for 5-10 minutes, things can happen pretty quickly.
“We know we’ve got to be ready, and I think we’ve been doing a good job that way so far. I’d like to keep it going.”
Ray Emery makes his third start of the season in net for the Senators. He allowed four third-period goals against the Thrashers in his last appearance a week ago, but Paddock said others deserved to share the blame for that close call.
“Razor has to be better than he was in that game, but it (shouldn’t have been) all laid at his feet,” said Paddock. “You hold a team to six shots over two periods, there’s no reason to let them get 14 in the third period.
“The team quit playing because they had a 5-0 lead.”
If anything, that should sound a bit of an alarm for tonight’s game.
“It’s early in the year, and no one’s really thrown in the towel yet,” said Redden. “(Washington) has a good team over there, regardless of their record.
“I don’t think we can afford (a letdown). That’s why we’ve been the team we’ve been. We’re just staying consistent and playing hard every night.”