Senators-Capitals Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated April 24, 2013

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 18: Erik Karlsson #65 of the Ottawa Senators skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on December 18, 2009 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Claiming the Southeast Division title was an impressive feat for the Washington Capitals given their slow start. Reigning Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson, meanwhile, could provide a huge boost to the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night as they seek the victory that would reward them with a postseason spot of their own. In this compressed lockout season, reaching the playoffs - let alone claiming the division - was a steep challenge to the Capitals after a brutal 2-8-1 start under first-year coach Adam Oates. While playing in the mediocre Southeast gave Washington (26-18-2) some time to right itself, having Alexander Ovechkin return to playing at a superstar level after finding a comfort zone following his switch from right to left wing was a huge factor in tearing to a fifth division title in six seasons. Ovechkin assisted on Nicklas Backstrom's go-ahead goal before scoring an empty-netter that capped a 5-3 win Tuesday night over Winnipeg that also clinched the third seed in the Eastern Conference. "He's played great the last couple months, as we talked about his willingness to change positions for the team and for what I think will make him a better player," Oates said of Ovechkin, who has 13 goals and six assists in helping the Capitals win 10 of 11. "He's had a good two months and he's pulled us along and all 20 guys have gotten better because of it. He's given us a lot of confidence, but like he's said, he's one piece of it - it's 20 guys." Ovechkin echoed his coaches thoughts, noting the contributions of Matt Hendricks, Mathieu Perreault and Jason Chimera after each scored Tuesday. "They played unbelievable," he said. "They scored a huge three goals for us. (Chimera) can't score almost all year and right now we need him to score and he's scoring goals. I hope that's going to give him more confidence." Ovechkin's only off game recently came in Washington's lone loss this month, a 3-1 defeat last Thursday at Ottawa in which he had a minus-3 rating. The Senators (23-16-6) have dropped both their games since that victory, including 3-1 to Pittsburgh on Tuesday. But Karlsson's expected return for this game - he will decide after Thursday's morning skate - from a lacerated Achilles tendon suffered Feb. 14 would be a sorely needed boost to their offense from the blue line. Ottawa has scored two goals in its last two games, converted 3 of 44 power plays in losing seven of 11 and failed to tally more than three goals in any of its last 13. "I think he's closer, there's always a chance," coach Paul MacLean said following Wednesday's practice about Karlsson, who had six goals and four assists in 14 games before the injury. "He practiced and took a regular turn today so that's another step in the process and we'll see how it goes (Thursday). He's kind of an infectious personality, he's helped the tempo of our practices so it would help the tempo of our game." The Senators can also clinch a playoff berth if Winnipeg loses in regulation to Montreal on Thursday night. Craig Anderson, who made 31 saves in a 3-2 win over Washington in the other meeting Jan. 29, will start for Ottawa. He had 18 saves last Thursday in his third straight victory over the Capitals.
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