[AP Preview - WashingtonCaps.com Preview]
Everyone make it through that little break alright, recharged and ready for a stretch run? Good.
Now where were we? Ah yes, one point out of first place in the Southeast Division with two games in hand and three points out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference - exactly where we all thought we'd be when we put the turkeys in the oven on Thanksgiving morning, right? Maybe not, but it may not be far from realistic pre-season predictions of where the Caps would be coming out of the All-Star break (hell, I picked 'em to win the Division).
So a playoff bearth is there for the taking for the boys from D.C. It doesn't matter how they started the season or how they've played in the last month or two - it only matters how they play these last 32 games, and the first of those games is the front end of a home-and-home series that opens tonight in Montreal against a Habs team with whom the Caps have split a pair of games so far this season.
And while the Caps are only a point out of first place in the Southeast, the Habs find themselves just six points out of first in the Northeast and gaining on a struggling Ottawa squad. Montreal comes into tonight's game with 15 points (7-2-1) in their last ten games (only Philly at 8-1-1 has been better over the similar stretch), but a mediocre home record of 9-8-5.
Without a doubt, the Eastern Conference is going to come down to the wire overall and within its three divisions. Every point is enormous (though no single point is worth any more or less than the one the Caps gave away in Toronto last week), and a team that doesn't show up for a single game or perhaps even for a single period may be regretting it come early April. The playoff push resumes tonight and the marathon that is the NHL season starts to look a bit more like a sprint every day - and you can bet that Bruce Boudreau's Caps know just how important it is to get a good start out of the blocks.
Elsewhere 'Round the Rinks:
H/t to Kyle for a link to Russia Today's very cool report on Alex Ovechkin in the wake of his contract extension.... We know that Chicago's Pat Kane is far from a lock for the Calder Trophy as NHL's Rookie of the Year. The rest of the hockey world is slowly getting wise to that too.... Check out Rink commentor Paul's drawings over at Capitals Art. Good stuff.... Make sure to check out Blueland Blog's coverage of the Jr. All-Stars Tournament (h/t Talkin' Thrash).... Finally, thanks to KB for the last week's worth of posts andto you all for great comments and kind words whilst I was otherwise occupied.