With just one victory in their last six games, the Washington Capitals are desperate to get their postseason push back on track.
The Caps hope they can bounce back tonight at Ottawa's Scotiabank Place, where they'll try to complete a season sweep of a Senators team that has been red- hot of late.
Washington is 3-0 against the Senators this year and tonight's meeting is the final scheduled encounter of the regular season. All told, the Capitals have claimed six of the last seven matchups in this series overall and two of the last three in Canada's capital city.
However, while the Caps are 1-4-1 in their last six games, Ottawa enters tonight riding a three-game winning streak. The Senators have outscored the opposition by an amazing 16-2 margin over the last three games and Ottawa has also posted a point in five straight tests (4-0-1) since a seven-game slide from Jan. 21-Feb. 7.
This evening's game is also an important battle in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Ottawa is currently seventh in the conference and five points ahead of Toronto and Winnipeg. Washington is just outside the postseason picture, as it trails the Maple Leafs and Jets by two points.
The Senators last played on Monday afternoon at Nassau Coliseum, where they dismantled the hosting New York Islanders by a 6-0 score. Erik Karlsson totaled four points on two goals and two assists as Ottawa chased Islanders goaltender Kevin Poulin before the game was two minutes old. Poulin was yanked after allowing scores 27 seconds apart to Karlsson and Jason Spezza in the first 1:35 of action.
Spezza finished with two goals and is now leading Ottawa in both goals (27) and points (65) this season. The centerman has been on an absolute tear of late, notching seven goals and eight assists during a six-game point streak.
"We got two days rest. Not many teams get that this time of year," Spezza said after Monday's rout. "And there's a benefit to playing games early on, because we can get some energy to move forward."
Ottawa's current winning streak came in the form of a perfect 3-0 road trip, but the team will kick off a three-game homestand tonight. The Sens have lost five of their last six tests at Scotiabank Place and are 15-11-3 as the host this year compared to a 16-11-5 mark on the road.
Meanwhile, road play has been a trouble spot for Washington all season long and the club will be happy to complete a four-game road trip tonight. The Caps are 1-2 on the swing, dropping them to 10-17-3 on the road compared to a 19-8-2 home record.
Washington was dealt a lopsided loss by the last-place Carolina Hurricanes on Monday night, as Eric Staal had two goals and an assist and Justin Peters earned his first career NHL shutout in the 5-0 rout at RBC Center. Caps goaltender Tomas Vokoun lasted just over five minutes, as he was pulled at 5:09 of the first period after goals by Justin Faulk and Anthony Stewart.
Vokoun gave up two goals on seven shots and was replaced by Michal Neuvirth, who made 30 saves on 33 shots the rest of the way. The setback dropped the Capitals to 4-7-3 in their last 14 outings.
"Normally you can try to take some positives out of a game. Tonight, nothing," said the Caps' Troy Brouwer. "You can't wipe it clean because you have to take it in and make sure you know what you're doing wrong, make sure you know what you did wrong. We're going to watch a lot of video, I hope."
Washington's Alex Ovechkin is expected to play tonight despite missing practice on Tuesday for what head coach Dale Hunter called a "maintenance day." The star winger didn't play in the final six minutes of the second period on Monday and although he did return in the third, Ovechkin was seen limping around after the game. Both Ovechkin and Hunter have said that the Russian superstar was not hurt and was instead bothered by an equipment problem.
Ovechkin has just one goal and one assist over his last five games. With 24 goals and 21 assists through 56 games this season, the 26-year-old is on pace for the lowest point total of his seven-year NHL career.