The NHL's leading goalscorer comes to town as the Habs open up a home-and-home series against Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.
The Caps found themselves dead last out East early on in the season. With Glen Hanlon behind the bench, the Caps were a dismal 6-14-1, and were looking like they were going to miss out on yet another post-season appearance.
And then they fired Hanlon, and replaced him with the then farm team head coach Bruce Boudreau...and they never looked back.
Since Boudreau has been at the helm, the Capitals have gone an astounding 17-8-4, and have averaged more than 1.1 goals a game...and Alexander Ovechkin has been playing his best hockey since the coaching swap.
Ovechkin has registered 25 of his 39 goals and 17 of his 26 assists since Boudreau took over. Ovechkin is also on pace for 64 goals this season - no one has scored 60 in one season since Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux (69) and Jaromir Jagr (62) in 1995-96.
Also breaking out have been rookie standouts Mike Green on defence, who leads ALL NHL defenders with 14 goals, and Nicklas Backstrom at center, who has been racking up points (mostly assists) playing alongside super-sniper Alexander the Gr8. Backstrom is second in the rookie points race, behind Chicago's Patrick Kane, therefore throwing his name back into the Calder mix.
The Caps are red hot lately, as they have gone 7-3-0 in their last 10 games. They will, however, be facing another red-hot Eastern Conference team that is oozing confidence.
With 60 points through 49 games, the Habs are surprising many of their pre-season critics - including, myself. Yes, I'm embarassed to admit it and I'm ashamed to have had lost faith in the first place, but I wasn't the only pessimistic fan. Many pundits had the Habs missing the playoffs, and I am in effect thrilled to see that they are going out there night after night and earning point after point. They are a confident bunch, but they are definitely not satisfied with where they stand just yet.
Chris Higgins said: "There's still a team ahead of us in the standings and it's dangerous thinking, thinking that we've accomplished something. We haven't accomplished anything. We still have 30 something games remaining and you don't accomplish anything with that many games left. None of our markers or goals have been met yet. When we make the playoffs, that's a marker. The ultimate is to win the Cup and that's our goal."
Added Chris: "The goal is to finish as high as we can in the standings. That's something we've talked about recently since we've been playing better. Before, we were talking about separating ourselves from the pack below but, now, it's about catching who's in front of us. That's a healthy way to think about things."
The Habs find themselves with the 2nd most points out East, yet they are 4th in the conference as Ottawa has 66 points. They are 6 points out of 1st spot...but, looking at this in a glass-half-full kind of way, they are also 6 points ahead of the 9th place New York Rangers. These are crucial times now, and every team will be leaving the extra effort on the ice from here on out. Games will be much more intense and points will be much harder to come by, so expect some things to change for some teams.
As the going gets tough, we will see if the tough can get going...or if the tough will soften and fall out of the race.
Puck drop: 7:38