In an extremely surprising season series where the Capitals have had Eastern Conference leading Ottawa's number all year long, the Caps look to ice the cake with a broom tonight -- the proverbial season sweep.
As is the case with every game on Washington's schedule, it should not come easy, but against Ottawa (for some unexplained reason) it has. The Senators, in a scenario familiar for Caps fans, come in with some new injury problems -- namely the absence of Dany Heatley who is second in the NHL with a +31 rating. The All-Star winger who has picked up four assists against the Caps this season is out for six weeks.
Jason Spezza is expected to play tonight, but will do so at less than 100 percent. The Sens' top centerman was the recipient of a hard open-ice hit by the Islanders' Freddy Meyer and left that game early as a result.
Ottawa may be welcoming back winger Patrick Eaves from the injured list. The former 20-goal scorer has missed the last 24 games, but trading Eaves for Heatley in the lineup is something the Capitals will happily do.
While we're on the topic of injuries, an unconfirmed rumor has percolated that states Michael Nylander is done for the season. While this is still SPECULATION at this point, we are all well aware that Nylander has been playing through significant pain with a torn rotator cuff. The more authoritative sources seem to indicate that Nylander, who scored a goal and an assist in over 20 minutes of ice time just two days ago, will be in the lineup tonight but this is certainly something we will have to keep our eye on throughout the remainder of the season.
Three of the Senators' 11 regulation losses have come at the hands of our very own, an anomaly rivaled only by the pre-Thanksgiving Detroit Red Wings whose 15-5-1 record (at the time) included an 0-3-1 mark against the Chicago Blackhawks. The Hawks lost in their most recent meeting with the Wings, something Washington hopes to avoid by starting Brent Johnson in goal, marking the first performance-related benching of Olie Kolzig (to start a game) since Bruce Boudreau came aboard.
Kolzig, who was horrendous in the loss to Philadelphia when he allowed 4 goals on 16 shots, was replaced midway through the game by Johnson. In relief, Johnny stopped 15 of 16 Flyer shots -- including a spectacular diving stop on sniper Simon Gagne. Washington quickly rallied back from a 4-1 deficit once Johnson entered the game, but fell just short on their comeback bid.
Johnson has been brilliant in his career against Ottawa, posting a 3-1-0 record with a 1.87 GAA and .944 save percentage including one shutout in five appearances. He has been nearly as effective since the beginning of November, going 2-2-1 with a 2.36 GAA and .912 save percentage in seven contests.
The way the season series has unfolded, this game should prove to be a very winnable one for Washington, a victory they could certainly use to continue their climb up the Southeast Division.
Elsewhere around the league, Jaromir Jagr of the slumping New York Rangers is being discussed as possible trade bait as the trade deadline draws within sight. The old rumor mill (and we all know how accurate that can be - i.e. Alex Ovechkin and the many places other than D.C. where he would end up) suggests that Columbus is in talks with the Rags about acquiring the underachiever. Good for them.
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