Pregame #27: Washington Capitals at Ottawa Senators

Washington Capitals (13-12-1) vs. Ottawa Senators (13-11-3)
Location: ScotiaBank Place

Time:
7:00 PM
TV: Local: Comcast SportsNet (HD) (Game On!), TSN
Radio: 1500AM, 820 AM, and XM
Previous Games:
Dec 3, 2011 OTT@WSH, 3-2 W (OT)
Games Remaining:
Dec 7, 2011 WSH@OTT, 7:00 PM
Feb 22, 2012 WSH@OTT, 7:00 PM
Familiar Faces of Former Capitals: D Sergei Gonchar (654 GP, 1994-2004)
Former Senators: Brooks Laich (1 GP, 2004)
Opposing Viewpoints:
Our Bloguin Partner: The 6th Sens, Silver Seven

Are you ready to kill a brew?

The Washington Capitals finally found their offense on Monday night in Florida.  With four even-strength goals in regulation, the Capitals matched their offensive output from their previous 3 games combined under new head coach Dale Hunter.  With their new-found offense, the Capitals will face the only team Hunter has beaten so far, the Ottawa Senators, but this time they’ll play in Canada.  This game also marks Hunter’s first game back in Ontario since he left his London Knights a couple weeks ago.  Unfortunately for the Caps, any progress they had made regarding defensive zone work quickly evaporated in Monday night’s debacle in Sunrise.  The Florida Panthers put 5 goals on the board in the first half of the game as the Caps fell asleep at the wheel, routinely blowing coverages and letting players approach the crease unseen, much less checked.  They’ll have to button up things in their own end if their new-found offense is going to mean anything.

After losing in Washington on Saturday, the Ottawa Senators returned home and defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2 on Monday night with the help of two goals from C Zack Smith.  The win continued the trend for the Senators of having up and down games, unable to string long stretches of much of anything together.  New head coach Paul MacLean will take what he can get, though, as the young team has exceeded expectations thus far.  The Senators still have a good core of skilled players while trying to get their young studs up to speed.  Young players in the NHL rarely lack speed or skill, rather they usually lack the strength, conditioning, and mental toughness that make them consistently good game to game, and there is no cure for that other than playing time.  If the Senators can scrape up enough points for a playoff berth this season, which is entirely possible if they can stay healthy, then the team’s youngsters will develop that much faster.  Look for more of the same from the Sens of two games ago, a fast and determined team that is prone to mental mistakes and turnovers.  Senators’ starter Craig Anderson has been a rock lately, so he will not be an easy goaltender to beat.  The Caps just need to stick to their system, take the turnovers as they are given, and good things will happen. 

Injury Report: Capitals’ D Mike Green (groin) and RW Jay Beagle (head) are out. D Roman Hamrlik (lower body) and RW Matt Hendricks (lower body) are day-to-day.
-For the Senators, D Matt Carkner (knee) and LW Peter Regin (shoulder) are out. D Filip Kuba (upper body) is day-to-day.

Three Things To Watch For:

Un-Special Teams: After starting the Dale Hunter era a perfect 8-for-8 on the penalty kill, the Caps allowed 3 goals on 6 chances against the Panthers on Monday night.  The first goal deflected off Dennis Wideman’s stick and was a bit of a fluke, but the other two goals were the result of the Panthers executing their powerplay better than the Caps executing their penalty kill.  With new assistant coach and penalty killing guru Jim Johnson running the show, don’t expect many more games like that once the team picks up the system.  On the other side of the coin, the Capitals powerplay has been abysmal.  The team is 0-for-9 under Hunter, which is bad in itself, but that also means the team has only averaged 2.25 powerplays per game, and one of them only lasted 20 seconds.  The Capitals will have to do a better job of driving the net with speed to draw penalties, much like they did in the third period of Monday’s game. 

Old Boy:  Long-time Senators’ Captain Daniel Alfredsson is playing like a kid again at age 38.  With 6 points and a +3 rating in his last 6 games, Alfie is making up for lost time.  The 5’11 left winger missed 6 games earlier this season and the last 28 games of last season dealing with various ailments as his long career is catching up to him.  Always a class act, the Gothenburg, Sweden, native has only taken 4 penalties in 21 games so far this season.  The 15-year veteran has scored 1,037 points in 1,077 games in his NHL career, plus 88 points in 107 playoff games, all with Ottawa.  On pace for his 13th 20+goal season, if Alfredsson can return to form offensively for an extended period it would make a huge difference for a growing team’s chances of making the post-season, not to mention winning tonight’s game. 

Sharing is Caring:  Based on the lines at practice on Tuesday, enigmatic RW Alexander Semin is not only poised to make his return to the Caps lineup after sitting out two games with an injury, he couls skate on the top line with top scorers Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Ovechkin.  Semin is a dynamo on offense when he’s healthy and motivated and something has been lacking for him this season, so the move looks to aimed at getting the trio back on track.  All three forwards usually respond well, as least offensively, to the re-uniting of the Care Bears line, but it eventually results in a lot of cutesy over-passing after a few games, or even just a few shifts.  The other good news is for Alexander Ovechkin, who seems to be finding his legs again now that his head coach is using him like a 9 million dollar player and the team’s MVP again.  Hunter double-shifted Ovechkin late in the Florida game, bumping his ice time up to 22 minutes for the night.  Alex didn’t record any points, but immediately looked more engaged in the game and more dangerous, as he was getting defensive mis-matches and was able to (finally) wear down opposing defensemen.  If Ovie keeps getting the minutes and the Care Bears play a full game or two together, look for all three players to put up some sparkling offensive numbers. 

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