Senators hot, Capitals not

The Ottawa Senators play host Wednesday night to the struggling Washington Capitals and can pull into a tie for the Northeast Division lead with a win and a Boston loss at St. Louis.
Senators netminder Craig Anderson (41) is tested by forward Jason Chimera in a 5-3 home loss to the Capitals on Dec. 7, 2011. (Jana Chytilova/Getty Images)

While the Ottawa Senators are playing like a team on a mission to get back to the playoffs, the Washington Capitals certainly don't seem inspired to avoid a shocking finish outside the Eastern Conference's top eight.

The visiting Capitals have a chance to complete a season sweep of Ottawa on Wednesday night, but they'll have to turn around not only their fortunes but also those of the surging Senators.

These teams were involved in the only two games on Monday's NHL slate and both contests quickly devolved into lopsided affairs. Ottawa finished a 3-0-0 road trip with a 6-0 rout of the New York Islanders before Washington suffered a disheartening 5-0 loss at Carolina.

The Senators are in a serious groove. They outscored Tampa Bay, Florida and the Islanders by a combined 16-2 on their trip, improving to 4-0-1 following a seven-game losing streak.

"We are focusing well and playing playoff-type hockey," Senators defenceman Chris Phillips said. "It's what we need to do this time of year."

There was plenty of credit to go around Monday with Erik Karlsson scoring two goals and adding a pair of assists to extend his commanding NHL points lead among defencemen. Karlsson has four goals and five assists in the last four games.

Jason Spezza also scored twice, giving him 14 points in the last five contests and Craig Anderson made 28 saves for his second shutout in three games.

"It was a total team effort," Anderson said. "We have to keep this going."

Ottawa could tie Boston for the Northeast Division lead Wednesday with a win and a Bruins regulation loss at St. Louis, but the reigning Stanley Cup champions have four games in hand. 

While the Senators (31-22-8) have strengthened their grip on seventh place in the East, the Capitals (29-25-5) are stuck in 10th, although they're still in play for a fifth straight Southeast Division title.

"It's amazing that as bad as we've played, we're still in it," Capitals forward Jeff Halpern said. "For us not to seize these opportunities, shame on us.

"With efforts like that, we're not going to do anything."

Washington's players had few answers for their fifth defeat in six games, which Troy Brouwer called "all-around embarrassing" after the Hurricanes took a 3-0 lead into the first intermission and finished with a 40-17 advantage in shots.

"You cut tape on it, you learn from it and then you have to move on," Capitals rookie head coach Dale Hunter said. "We've got another game in Ottawa we've got to win."

The inconsistent play of Alexander Ovechkin is one reason Washington isn't winning nearly as often as in recent seasons. Ovechkin put only one shot on goal and posted a minus-2 on Monday and he's been held without a point in three of the last four games and five of nine since his recent suspension.

The extended absence of Nicklas Backstrom, who still leads the Capitals in assists despite missing the last 21 games with a concussion, is another problem. Backstrom made a major impact on Washington's three victories over the Senators this season, scoring a goal in each and adding an assist in a 5-3 road win Dec. 7.

Washington has won six of seven against Ottawa to improve to 13-3-3 in the series since the start of 2007-08.