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By no means are the Washington Capitals out of the woods yet, but captain Alexander Ovechkin is doing everything he can to make sure his underachieving team doesn’t miss the postseason.
Ovechkin led the way in Monday’s 5-3 win at Detroit, scoring twice in helping the Capitals snap a two-game losing streak while also helping the club maintain their hold on eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
Life away from Verizon Center hasn’t been kind to Washington. The Capitals have the NHL’s sixth-worst road record and have allowed nearly a goal more on the road vs. at home. But they score at about the same rate, and Ovechkin is a big part of that.
A 50-plus goal scorer four times, Ovechkin could be hard-pressed to reach 40 this season. But he has had no troubles scoring on the road.
Of Ovechkin’s 32 goals, 20 have come away from Verizon Center. And with four games of a five-game road trip in the books, Ovechkin has scored five times in helping the Capitals to two wins, with a game in Philadelphia Thursday remaining before the team returns to D.C. for a three-game home stand.
Southeast Division Notes
Carolina Hurricanes – The Hurricanes reassigned defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti to the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers for the second time in a week, but the bigger news is who might be taking his place. Joni Pitkanen, Carolina’s top minute-munching defenseman since coming to the team for the 2008-09 season, could make his return to the lineup Wednesday. Pitkanen has played in just 21 games this season after suffering a concussion and later having knee surgery. Pitkanen last played on Dec. 6 — just four games into new coach Kirk Muller’s tenure — and will need to adjust to the new-look Hurricanes after more than two-and-a-half months off. Since Pitkanen was injured, Carolina has leaned heavily on rookie Justin Faulk, who leads the team in average ice time at exactly 23 minutes a night. They also traded Tomas Kaberle to Montreal in exchange for veteran Jaroslav Spacek just days after Pitkanen last played. Couple those moves with systematic changes under Muller and Pitkanen will have a bit of a learning curve to find his mental and physical comfort zone in the season’s final month.
Florida Panthers – The Panthers lost role player Jack Skille for the season when he underwent shoulder surgery Monday. In a bit of good news, Scottie Upshall could be close to returning but the team is being careful not to rush him back into the lineup. Florida is on a four-game winning streak — their first since 2008 — and holds a three-point lead on the Capitals with two games in hand. They trail Northeast Division leader Boston — who squashed Toronto, 8-0, on Monday — by four points for the Eastern Conference’s second seed, but have one more game remaining than the defending Stanley Cup Champions.
Tampa Bay Lightning – After a 7-3 home loss to Buffalo Monday, the Lightning slipped to nine points behind Washington with 10 games remaining. With rookie Dustin Tokarski struggling to fill the void left by the injured Mathieu Garon, the team signed journeyman goaltender Sebastien Caron — who had been playing in Germany — for the balance of the season. They also signed 2007 third-round pick Alex Killorn to a two-year, entry-level contract that will kick in starting next season. Killorn, who led Harvard in scoring and was named First Team All-ECAC this season, will join the Lightning’s AHL affiliate in Norfolk on an amateur tryout so as to not burn a year of his contract.
Winnipeg Jets – Defenseman Zach Bogosian avoided supplemental discipline from the league for his charging major Sunday on Carolina’s Andreas Nodl. Nodl left the game and may have suffered a concussion, and Bogosian was given a game misconduct and ejected from the Jets’ 4-3 loss to the Hurricanes. But the NHL deemed that punishment enough for Bogosian, who avoided a suspension for the third time this season. It’s a big break for Winnipeg — the team is four points behind Washington and two behind Buffalo for the East’s final playoff spot with a game in hand, but face three tough road games this week at Pittsburgh, Washington and Nashville. Bogosian, along with Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom, is one of three Jets defensemen to log 23+ minutes a night, and he leads all Winnipeg blueliners in shorthanded ice time per game at 3:02.