Caps preview: The week ahead

Caps preview: The week ahead
April 9, 2013, 2:15 pm
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The Capitals are a perfect 4-0-0 in April and have won a season-high four straight games as they prepare for tonight’s road contest against the Montreal Canadiens.

The Capitals’ recent hot streak has catapulted them atop the Southeast Division where they lead the second place Winnipeg Jets by two points with one game in-hand.

Below is a look at the Capitals’ week ahead. All numbers are through Monday’s games.

TUESDAY, APRIL 9 @ MONTREAL CANADIENS (25-8-5; 1ST PLACE NORTHEAST DIVISION)

Given how the Capitals began the season (losing 9-of-11 under first-year head coach Adam Oates); few would have predicted that the Capitals would eventually rise atop the Southeast Division with nine games left in the regular-season.

Similarly, given how the Montreal Canadiens finished last season (in last place in the Eastern Conference); few would have predicted that the Canadiens would spend much of this season atop the Northeast Division.

That said, despite both the Capitals and Canadiens adjusting this season to new head coaches and systematic changes, they meet tonight at Montreal’s Bell Centre in a dual of a first place teams.

Michel Therrien has done an admirable job in his second tenure as Canadiens head coach (Therrien was Montreal’s bench boss from 2000-03), defenseman Andrei Markov has stayed healthy after battling injuries for the better part of three seasons, and rookies Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher have emerged as reliable everyday players.

Montreal’s power play is also among the NHL’s best, ranking 5th overall at 22.4 percent. Defenseman PK Subban is tied with Alex Ovechkin for the NHL lead with 21 power play points, while Markov is third in power play scoring with 20 points with the man advantage.

THURSDAY, APRIL 11 VS. CAROLINA HURRICANES (16-20-2; 3 RD PLACE SOUTHEAST DIVISION)

The Hurricanes were atop the Southeast Division in mid-March and had a ten point cushion over the Capitals following a 4-0 win at Verizon Center on March 12.

The teams met two nights later in Raleigh, NC, and the Hurricanes’ season has not been the same since. The Hurricanes watched the Capitals rally from two-goals down and win 3-2 in regulation on March 14, beginning a stretch during which Carolina has lost 12-of-13 overall.

The Hurricanes are now just two points clear of the Eastern Conference basement and they remain without No.1 goalie Cam Ward who is out indefinitely with a torn MCL and No.1 defenseman Joni Pitkanen who is out for the season with a leg injury.

Alexander Semin missed Carolina’s 6-2 loss to Boston on Monday due to an upper body injury. Semin has two goals and a minus-8 rating in his last 11 games.

SATURDAY, APRIL 13 VS. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (16-20-2; 4TH PLACE SOUTHEAST DIVISION)

The Lightning visit Verizon Center on Saturday- just six days after they fell to the Capitals 4-2 on Apr. 7.

Alex Ovechkin scored twice in the Washington win to pull into a tie with Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos for the NHL goal-scoring lead with 25 tallies on the season.

Stamkos begins the week on a personal four-game goal scoring drought and has just one power goal in his last 12 games overall.

Stamkos remains second in the overall NHL scoring race with 49 points in 38 games- behind only Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby (56 points in 36 games).

Stamkos’ Lightning teammate Martin St. Louis is third in overall scoring with 47 points in 38 games this season.

Tampa Bay begins the week with a 3-2-1 under new head coach Jon Cooper. Cooper took over for Guy Boucher after the Lightning lost 18-of-25 games to fall out of a playoff position.