Capitals prepare for different challenge vs. Senators

OTTAWA – The Capitals on Friday night return to the scene of the turning point of their season. It was Dec. 19, Washington had lost eight in a row and was trailing by two goals early on to the Senators.

The comeback victory stopped the skid and helped the Caps get back on track to where they are now – second in the Eastern Conference and comfortably in first in the Southeast Division. And while coach Bruce Boudreau said he wasn’t “marveling” at his team’s rise, that time in December wasn’t easy.

“We were getting pretty down at that stage,” he said Friday at Scotiabank Place before the Caps’ morning skate. “It was getting difficult – we had lost eight in a row, and we started out 2-0 and we were going, ‘Here we go again.’ It made the guys feel that they can play again when we ended up winning the game.”

The rest, as they say, is history. But the Caps are back in Ottawa with a different set of circumstances – battling a Senators team that has long since fallen out of contention.

In trying to sweep the season series from Ottawa, the Caps know it might be even more of a challenge than usual because there’s no pressure on the team that’s at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

“You always think it’s gonna be easy, but it’s not – it’s always the hardest ones,” winger Marco Sturm said. “You see it every year. The Islanders right now all of a sudden they start to play good ‘cause they have nothing to lose and they have fun and they have confidence and that’s how it works.”

The Senators have won six of their past nine games, including Thursday night against the Rangers. Players and coaches around the league have brought up this season how tough it is to play against teams with nothing to lose – and Marcus Johansson said it’s a different kind of game than against the Flyers or someone on the edge of the playoff race.

“Maybe when you get out there, it’s a little more intense,” he said. “It’s more fun games maybe playing against teams that are playing for something; it gets a little more intense.”

But the Caps insist it’s about playing their game and not worrying about the Senators’ status or thinking about how many call-ups from the AHL are in the lineup Friday night. Boudreau said the approach doesn’t change.

“No,” he said. “Two points is two points.”

If they manage to get two points, they’ll move into a tie with the Flyers that’s not really a tie (due to games in hand) but could vault into the top spot in the conference Saturday night.

Notes – Semyon Varlamov starts in net Friday night for the Caps as Michal Neuvirth is sick…. Boudreau said “at this stage” he estimates that Alex Ovechkin (undisclosed) and Jason Arnott (lower-body) will skate with the team at practice Monday.

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