We’re down to the final three games of the season. The situation is closer than it needs to be but that’s hockey. The Senators need two points out of a possible six to qualify for the playoffs. The Senators will control their own fate, with three games remaining. A quick look at the standings and it appears that Washington is looking to roll into the playoffs on a high note after winning their last two games. Ottawa has lost their last two and need to avoid any attempts at tying their season high, five-game losing streak.
Record 45-23-16-6 for 52 points.
7th in the Eastern Conference
Record 46-26-18-3 for 54 points
3rd in the Eastern Conference
Game starts at 7 pm
TV: TSN & TVA
HEAD TO HEAD
Their previous meeting was a 3-1 win by the Senators on home ice that brought an end to the Capitals’ 8-game winning streak. Goaltender Braden Holtby was peppered with 38 shots and despite letting in two goals that he’d probably like to have back, he was named first star of the game. Craig Anderson wasn’t nearly as busy while facing only 19 shots. Marc Methot and Chris Phillips will likely get the call to shutdown Caps’ leading scorer Alex Ovechkin; both were instrumental in keeping him off the scoreboard last game. With 31 goals in 46 games Ovechkin has effectively shutdown the rumour mill that he’s done dominating the NHL; there’s no doubt that Ovechkin will be extra motivated to add to his league-leading goal totals after being shutdown the last time these two teams met. Ovechkin’s current pace would have him finish a regular 82-game schedule with 54-goals.
The Ottawa Senators have already missed one opportunity to secure their playoff berth when they lost to the Pittsburg Penguins on Monday. The fans and media played up the return of much-maligned Matt Cooke while Senators’ players towed the line and said that the two points were first and foremost in their minds. The Penguins outplayed the Senators in the first period – the Senators appeared to be content to watch the great passes that were being made without offering much resistance. The second period saw the Senators come out like one would have expected in the first place; they took the play to the Penguins and outshot them 11 to 6, no goals were scored. The third period saw Ottawa start their comeback as Patrick Wiercioch scored on the PP – assists from Gonchar and Alfredsson. Tyler Kennedy put the game out of reach when he scored at the 17.26 mark – assist from Cooke. Additions to the Penguins already-stacked roster factored into the Penguins win – Brenden Morrow and Jarome Iginla both figured into the scoring with Morrow getting an assist on the first two goals and Iginla getting the second goal – which turned out to be the game-winner.
Washington Capitals’ last game was a 5-3 win against the Winnipeg Jets that allowed the Caps to clinch the Southeast Division title. The storyline for the game seems to have been the storyline for their resurgence. The Caps best players were the best players on the ice and had two goals in the win. They outshot the Jets 41-27. Additional scoring (2 g) came from their third line; contributions from the third and fourth lines have given the Caps offensive strength throughout their lineup since the turnaround. As well, John Erskine has gone from a bit player to 20-minutes-a-game as a rock-solid defenseman. All of this while sticking to a new system that Adam Oates implemented out of the gates earlier this season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Erik Karlsson, Ottawa – Cue the music from “2001 A Space Odyssey”… from the look of Wednesday’s morning skate – number 65 will be back in the lineup and teamed with Marc Methot when they face the Capitals. I sincerely hope that the addition of Karlsson does not have the Senators’ players gazing at their wunderkind and waiting for him to dominate in his first game back. While he might do just that, it’s imperative that the Senators find the team resolve that served them so well at the beginning of the season when they stuck together to weather all of their injuries.
Alex Ovechkin, Washington – what can a person say about Ovechkin? He’s arguably the top player in the NHL. He’s had 21 goals and 32 points in the past 21 games. His work with line-mates Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson have taken the Capitals on their backs and have surged back to clinch the Southeast Division title. While Washington has a great first line and balanced scoring on their team - shutting down their key player, Ovechkin, is job number one when it comes to beating the Capitals.
3 STORYLINES FOR THE GAME
- Power Play – the PP has been letting the Senators down. Their PK has been doing their job but the PP has dropped off dramatically. Given the interruption to the flow of the game and then the subsequent stick-squeezing that occurs after an unsuccessful PP perhaps they should consider changing it up. Jean-Gabriel Pageau seems to have real chemistry with Daniel Alfredsson and in a PP situation perhaps this combo could offer more than the non-chemistry that Alfredsson/Turris have. If it’s broke shouldn’t they fix it? Why keep going back to something that isn’t working.
- Ovechkin-Backstrom-Johansson – this trio has been on fire of late and were instrumental in turning around the Washington Capitals’ season after a very poor start. In the past 21 games the Caps are 16-4-1. Backstrom is third in assists with 40 but has 22 in the last 21 games. Marcus Johansson always impressed me with play; he’s a great combination of size and skill. That said, I’ve been waiting to see him put it all together and to put some big points on the board. As the third member of the team’s number one line he has 19 points in those 21 games. They should consider trading him to Ottawa as soon as possible.
- Swedish Combos – didn’t anyone else think of this matchup? Backstrom/Johansson versus Alfredsson/Silfverberg/Zibanejad and Karlsson or Lehner? Shouldn’t both of them be returned to the Canada’s Team Sweden? Everyone knows how disruptive Swedes are when not in their natural environment. Does Washington even have an IKEA? Volvos? Meatballs? Anyone else think that’s a good idea?
The Senators have just three games remaining (Washington, Philadelphia and Boston) and none of them are going to be easy wins. Ottawa needs to get their ship turned in the right direction and would benefit from a few wins to help build confidence and momentum as they prepare for the playoffs. The Senators have amazed everyone with their tenacity against devastating injuries and their depth across the organization. There’s no time to think about anything else except that they’ve worked too hard to miss the playoffs and they should desperately want a chance to test their mettle against the best. The NHL playoffs are almost here – it’s a new season, anyone can win on any given night and the Ottawa Senators could do some damage. If Ottawa makes the playoffs they’ll have nothing to lose and everything to gain. I can’t wait for them to begin.