Enjoy a hearty handful of midweek quick hits:
• The red-hot Capitals have played five of their first eight games against Western Conference opponents and gone 4-1 in the process. That’s a solid turnaround for a team that struggled to a 12-13-3 mark against the West last season, but now the Caps will have to turn their attention to more pressing matters.
Washington’s next eight opponents are from the Eastern Conference and three of the next four are against Metropolitan Division rivals, starting with Wednesday’s game against Pittsburgh.
“If you’re going to get into the playoffs, those are four-point games every night,” Caps coach Barry Trotz said. “We’ve got to make sure any good work we did, that goes in the bank and now we’ve got to earn some more. We’ve got to earn some more points. There is no patting on the back; it’s game seven [of the season].”
Washington went 17-9-4 against the Met last season—solid, but well off the pace set by the Rangers and Islanders. If the Caps are going to challenge for the division lead, they’d do themselves a big favor by banking these points while they're hot.
Good for Ovi. No reason to light a fire under the Pens, especially with Crosby struggling to create points under coach Mike Johnston’s defensive yolk. And no reason to talk smack when the standings speak loud and clear.
• Senators coach Dave Cameron hasn’t quite figured out how to address his team’s inconsistent defense, or its inability to win a home game at the Canadian Tire Centre, but he’s proved himself to be a master of the simile.
“Right now I feel like the weatherman,” Cameron told reporters on Monday. “You’ve got something to plan and you turn on the TV and the weatherman is talking about how sunny it is and everybody is all happy, they turn it up. But when the weatherman forecasts there might be a storm on the horizon, they change the channel.
“Well, if we don’t fix our game, there is a storm coming; so we have to recognize it, deal with it.”
He might find that fix with the return of a veteran defender from Injured Reserve.
The Sens are expected to get Marc Methot back for tonight’s game against the Flames and the veteran should bring some stability to the back end. So will limiting the minutes of Mark Borowiecki, who was painfully overmatched while skating on the first pair alongside Erik Karlsson. And if nothing else captain Karlsson should be more effective now that he doesn’t have to compensate for Borowiecki’s limitations.
• The flickering Flames could get some reinforcements of their own. Defenseman T.J. Brodie is set to make his season debut tonight. He’s been sidelined by a broken hand he suffered during the exhibition season.
Brodie’s value to the team has been obvious in his absence. The Flames are allowing an average of 3.89 goals-against per game, the second-most in the league, and the offense is generating 1.78 goals, the third-fewest. The 25-year-old isn’t a cure-all, but his presence should help No. 1 defenseman Mark Giordano slide back into his comfort zone. Brodie plays 25 minutes a night on the top pair, and is coming off a career-best 41-point season. His ability to make smart plays in all three zones should help slow the bleeding. It also might take some of the pressure off of Dougie Hamilton, who has been a square peg to this point. And with an extra body on the back end, GM Brad Treliving might pull the trigger on a deal to add some experienced forward help. Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman are thought to be available.
• Hard to believe that Alexei Marchenko played less than 16 minutes in Detroit’s 3–1 loss to the Hurricanes on Tuesday. Skating in just his second game of the season, the Russian blueliner was a rare bright spot on the Red Wings defense, consistently making good decisions both with and without the puck. Given how badly Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson are fighting it lately, Marchenko has probably earned a larger role when the Wings take on the Sens in a home-and-home this weekend.
• He won't be crowing about it after a tough loss Tuesday night in Dallas, but Anaheim center Chris Wagner made a big impression in just his third appearance this season. The 24-year-old out of Colgate won 75% of his draws (six of eight), made five shot attempts (getting two through to the net) and landing a team-high four hits, including a highlight-reel bruising that saw the six-footer deposit 6' 7" Stars defenseman Jamie Oleksiak in the Dallas bench. Depth down the middle is an organizational strength for Anaheim, but Wagner—who filled in for an ailing Ryan Getzlaf—looks like he’s ready to chip in on a full-time basis.