Who would have thought before the season began that tonight’s game between the Ottawa Senators and Washington Capitals would be between the two hottest teams in the NHL?
But that’s the case, with the Senators charged with the duty of trying to stop what seems like an unstoppable train in the Capitals, who went into last night’s game against the Montreal Canadiens winners of 14 games in a row, which was three short of the all-time NHL record.
(It should be noted, though, that the Pittsburgh Penguins won 17 in a row in 1992-93 without the benefit of the shootout, while the first game of the Capitals’ streak was won in a shootout. So for the hockey purists, going into last night’s game, the Capitals had 13 in a row if you put them on equal ground with the Penguins.)
The Senators, of course, are no slouches themselves, having won 12 of their past 13 games and cementing their status as a legitimate playoff contender in the Eastern Conference.
Going into last night’s game, the Capitals had won 17 of their past 18, including a 5-2 win over the Senators more than a month ago, but it could be argued the Senators have faced far stiffer competition in their recent red-hot run than have the Capitals. Of the 12 wins the Senators have racked up during their past 13 games, eight of them have come against teams that are currently in a playoff spot — they’ve beaten Montreal twice and have also triumphed over Chicago, New Jersey, Pittsburgh and Buffalo in the Eastern Conference and Calgary and Vancouver in the West.
The Capitals meanwhile, have feasted on far more feeble opponents lately. Of their 14 straight wins going into last night’s game, the Capitals had played just four teams that would be playoff bound if the season were to end today — two wins over Pittsburgh and one each over Philadelphia and Tampa Bay.
The Senators certainly don’t have the star power the Capitals possess, but they do have one common trait. Both teams are well-coached by hard-working guys who came up through the minors and have had the kind of success that has supplied all those coaching in the minors with the hope they might one day get the call instead of standing by while NHL teams recycle former coaches.
Both teams face a stiff challenge in this game. A preview of the Eastern Conference final, perhaps? Far too early to tell, but the way they’ve been playing lately, the prospect is a tantalizing one.