At the turn (41 down, 41 to go), the Caps find themselves equidistant in the standings from the final playoff spot and from 13th place in the Eastern Conference. There is little doubt in my mind (and in Vogs') that they're much closer, figuratively, to the former, but that's why they play the games, right? [Ed. Note: I didn't do a "first-half recap" because I knew Vogel would do a great one - and I was right. Check it out].
Tonight the Caps welcome their good buddies from Hotlanta to the V.C. The Thrash blew a 4-1 lead last night to Phoenix (they lost 5-4 in OT), and perhaps more significantly, seem to have lost Slava Kozlov to injury. "Kozzie" joins Steve McCarthy (shoulder), Scott Mellanby (neck) and Andy Sutton (Brashearitis) on the Atlanta injured list, but the two big guns, of course, will still be in the lineup (three, if you count Kari Lehtonen).
Speaking of the Thrashers, I noticed something last night and it might be a little insight into why I almost-suddenly despise them so much (other than the Bob Hartley-related thuggery). Guess which team I'm describing:
- Over a four year span, this team had two #1 overall and two #2 overall picks. Among these selections were the team's two best forwards (a North American and a Russian) and franchise goalie.
- This team's mascot is a bird. Not an intimidating one (at all), but a bird nonetheless.
- This team's head coach never played a second in the NHL.
Anyway, back to tonight's game and the rest of the season ahead, if the Caps are going to make the playoffs, it's time to start that push now. It's time to start turning home ice into an advantage. It's time to start putting together some win streaks (the Caps are 18-44-6 in their last 68 games following a win). It's time to start winning some games within the Division (the Caps are 5-6-2 against their Southeast Division foes). It's time for the third line to start kicking in some goals and for the second line to start scoring at even strength. Really, it's now or never.
- Hart: Shane Doan (2G, 5 SOG, 2 hits)
- Ross: Paul Kariya (4 points)
- Norris: Rostislav Klesla (2G, +3, 2 SOG, 1 hit, 1 blocked shot)
- Vezina: Marc-Andre Fleury (W, 31 saves on 33 shots against in win at Buffalo)
- Richard: Marian Hossa, Matt Cooke, Tony Salmelainen, Shane Doan, Rostislav Klesla, Scott Hartnell (2G each)
- Calder: Paul Stastny (G, 2A, +2, 2 SOG)
- Aiken: Nikolai Khabibulin (L, 4 goals allowed on 14 shots against in 21:13 of work)