With most teams now around the 10-game mark before the playoffs, battles for the top spot are fierce and today's games could see a lot of shifting in the Eastern Conference standings by end of day.
The New Jersey Devils maintained their hold on first place with a 4-2 win against an injury plagued Colorado Avalanche team, in which goalie Martin Brodeur had to be sharp in order to garner his 40th win of the season.
The Montreal Canadiens recaptured the top slot in the Northeast Division with a convincing 3-0 win over the New York Islanders. More than anything, Montreal has demonstrated that, with Price and Halak, it has the depth in goaltending to carry them far into the playoffs. The Islanders, meanwhile, are seeing their playoffs hopes dimming, registering their 5th loss in a row.
Which is why the games today will be so interesting. The Washington Capitals are facing the Boston Bruins for the third time this month. The Caps handed the Bruins a humiliating 10-2 thrashing in their first encounter. The Bruins edged a victory in their next tilt, mostly due to bad penalties taken by Donald Brashear. The Bruins, currently 7th in the East, are trying to protect their playoff spot, while the Caps will be looking to ring up one of the three wins they need to secure their own playoff berth.
Of importance to me, of course, is the Ottawa Senators meeting with the Carolina Hurricanes. This is their first encounter since the Corvo-Eaves swap for Stillman-Commodore last February 11. While this trade seemed to be skewed in Ottawa's favour, the Canes have benefited much more from the four-player swap. The Hurricanes are 11-3-1 since the trade, while the Senators are 6-7-3 in the same time span. Carolina has averaged 3.46 goals per game to Ottawa's 2.13 goals per game in the same time span.
On Carolina's side, Corvo has found a slot on the top power play unit, and has reaped 3 goals and 9 assists in 13 games, making a huge difference to the team's offensive. For a defenceman, Corvo's numbers are turly stunning. Patrick Eaves, who was injured at the trade, returned to the ice on February 28, and has since chipped in a respectable 3 point in 7 games. The Hurricanes had been on a tear of late, before seeing their five-game winning streak snapped last Friday by the Buffalo Sabres.
Meanwhile, the Senators are out to increase their current streak to four wins. Their last four game streak dates back to January 12. Cory Stillman has garnered 1 goal and 12 assists in his 16 games with the Sens, and looks to be the ingredient that Senators coach Bryan Murray had been looking for to fire up the teams' secondary scoring. Mike Commodore has been held pointless since the trade and has admitted that he has had a hard time adjusting to the Senators defensive system, specifically on the coverage of oncoming forwards. Commodore, who is used to attacking when in doubt, is required to back off under the Sens' defensive system.
Today's game could go either way, but I have to give the edge to the Senators. The Hurricanes will be looking to protect their lead in Southeast Division against a charging Washington Capitals team. There may be some tentativeness on the blue line and in nets after the debacle at the Buffalo HSBC Arena on Friday. On the offensive, Stall, Samsonov, Cullen and Corvo have all been hot. I expect to see the Canes playing very strict defense. The Senators, who are always a little tentative when exploring territory they haven't seen in a while (i.e. a four-game winning streak), will need to get on the scoreboard early, but don't need to change much to their current game. Their power play has been working well, and the overall increasing performance of the team can be seen in their decline in penalty minutes.