CAPITALS MAKING MOVES IN STANDINGS:

In case you haven't noticed, the Washington Capitals are now the hottest team in the National Hockey League. On Tuesday night, before another sellout crowd at the Verizon Center in Washington D.C, the Capitals extinguished the Calgary Flames 3-1 with perhaps their best all-around performance under new head coach Dale Hunter.

Washington is now 9-6-1 under their bench general, and seems to have all phases of their game flowing like a well-oiled machine. The capitals are getting top line production, secondary scoring, great defense, exceptional goaltending, and are playing very well on special teams.

They are even scoring first these days, which even for the Capitals of the past few seasons was a rarity.  

With the win, the Caps are now seventh and climbing in the Eastern conference. They have 44 points, which ties them with the New Jersey Devils, but Washington hold the tie break and are in the seventh by having a better goal differential. The Caps are a plus-4, while the Devils are a minus-3.

Washington is now just two points behind the Penguins for the fifth spot. Not that the Pens and Caps need any extra fuel for their rivalry, but this makes next Wednesday's showdown at the big phone booth in D.C. between the two clubs even more important.

Washington has also crept to within three points of the Southeast leading Florida Panthers. Washington leads the Winnipeg Jets by one point, and the Tampa Bay Lightning by seven points.

For a look at the complete divisonal standings in the NHL, click here. If you prefer the conference version in January, then click here. 

THE GREAT 8 ENDS THE DRAMA EARLY

Alex Ovechkin entered Tuesdays contest on his best goal scoring streak in almost two seasons. The last time Ovie entered a contest with four goals in his previous two games was back on April 11, 2010. The Great 8 had notched back-to-back two goal games versus the Penguins and Atlanta Thrashers entering the final game of the 2010 season against the Bruins.

He failed in his attempt for five that day, be The Great 8 didn't take long to end the drama of would he, or wouldn't he score against the Calgary. The Flames Rene Bourque (more on him later) committed a holding penalty on Ovechkin in the game's first minute, and just 35-seconds later, Ovie one- timed a perfect pass from Marcus Johansson past Calgary starter Mikka Kiprusoff for the very early 1-0 lead.

The goal, which was Ovechkin's 17th of the season, was his also his fifth in three games. The last time No.8 accomplished that feat was way back on February 4-7, 2010 when he scored six goals in three games vs. the Rangers, Thrashers, and Penguins.

Ovechkin now has seven goals in his last seven games to match his 11 points during that same span. Like most of the other six during this time, Ovie seems to just be shooting the puck with his ferocious slap, or wrist shot.

Goalies cannot compete with a shot immediately off the stick of Ovechkin, but they can when they have time to recover, and that was happening from the curl to the drag. Defenders were also able to poke their sticks into his shots as well, but not when he is taking less than one second to get rid of the puck.

LESSON NOT LEARNED:

Not only did Rene Bourque draw the penalty that allowed the Capitals to score their first goal, but apparently he also failed to learn a lesson when he was suspended two games last month for a hit on Brent Seabrook of the Chicago Blackhawks. With the puck gone from Nicklas Backstrom’s stick, Bourque elbowed the Caps top scorer in the head. Backstrom’s reaction was immediate, and so was the Caps bench.

"The puck isn't even close," Capitals center Marcus Johansson said. "And it's very, very unnecessary." The NHL agreed, and today the Dean of NHL discipline, Brendan Shanahan handed down a 5-game suspension to the Alberta, Canada native. He also “clipped” his wallet a little in the process.

According to NHL.com, Bourque, who was suspended last month, is classified as a repeat offender under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Accordingly, he forfeits his salary ($203,252.05) based on the number of games in the season (82), rather than the number of days (185). The money goes to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.
 
The seven year veteran of the Blackhawks and now Calgary will miss games Jan. 5 at Boston, Jan. 7 vs. Minnesota, Jan. 10 vs. New Jersey, Jan. 12 vs. Anaheim and Jan. 14 vs. Los Angeles. He will be eligible to return Jan. 17 at San Jose.

Bourque said after the game, "Did it look really bad? Was he hurt? I didn't even know if I clipped him. I didn't even know if I hit him in the head."

Well I guess you do now Renee my boy, and if you don't then I'm sure missing a cool 200k from your checking account will trigger some of that memory loss.

As for Nicklas Backstrom, he stayed in the game for two more shifts but did not finish the contest. The incident occurred 10:06 into the third period. Caps coach Dale Hunter said following the game “It was precautionary, and he's getting evaluated. We’ll know more (Wednesday)."  

Today, Backstrom's brother tweeted about his brother’s condition. “Test done and the dr couldn't tell today but a small concussion/migraine. Have to wait for tmrw and a new test,” wrote Kristoffer Backstrom in the second tweet, which has since been deleted. Like the NFL, NHL injuries are kept hush-hush, so there is no question the Caps asked Kristoffer Backstrom to remove it.

According to the Washington Post, Hunter said that Backstrom took part in an off-ice workout with teammates Wednesday but that No.19 will continue to be evaluated. The Capitals are formally listing Backstrom’s status as day-to-day and the team has not gone so far as to use the word concussion when discussing the center’s health wrote Katie Carrera.

“We’re evaluating and it’s one of those things where you evaluate it for a few days and see how he is,” Hunter said when asked if there was an indication of a concussion.

There hasn’t been a decision on whether Backstrom will travel with the team when it leaves for a two-game road trip to California Thursday afternoon, Hunter said.

Backstrom does have a history of migraines that in the past have forced him from games early. Airplane rides, especially long ones like say to San Jose, are not good for concussions, no matter how small.

In November after San Diego Chargers Kris Dielman staggered on the field, and continued to play with a concussion, he suffered a grand mal seizure on the plane ride home. You can believe the Caps will take every precaution with Backstrom, especially with many unknown issues still surrounding their effects.

MORE ON NICKLAS AND THE GREAT 8

Backstrom notched a hat trick of sorts during the Caps 3-1 win over the Flames. He recorded an assist on every goal and now has eight points in his last five games and 15 in his last dozen. He has recorded at least one assist in five straight games, and leads the Capitals with 42 points on the year, which is nine more than Ovechkin.

Ovechkin also recorded an assist to match his goal during last night’s contest. Over the Capitals four game winning streak, the two point leaders on the team have combined to for 15 points, as Backstrom has one marker with six helpers, and Ovie has five, and three respectively.

GOING GREEN, FINALLY:

After missing 23 games with what team officials called a groin injury, the Capitals top defensemen for the past five seasons returned to action on Tuesday versus Calgary, and let’s just say he needs a little more work before he is back, or close to 100 percent.

Green skated 17 shifts with 15:43 of ice time, and didn’t record an official shot but the fact that he’s not in game shape led to his committing two penalties. Green was called for holding in the second period, and interference in the third. Despite No.52 not having any direct outcome or effect on the game, the Capitals remained unbeaten with him in the lineup this season. Washington is now 9-0 when Green plays.

The two-time NHL All-Star first team member said of his performance,” “There was times where I felt like I had good jump and [others where] I didn’t have the energy to do it. It’s just a matter getting everything back and functioning properly.”

While Green returned to action, the hot Alexander Semin missed the contest, and is listed as day-to-day with an undisclosed upper body injury.  

SPECIAL TEAMS ARE LOOKING PRETTY SPECIAL:

The Capitals scored two more goals with the extra man during their 3-1 win over Calgary, and in the process jumped into the league’s top ten on the power play. The Caps are now ninth in the NHL with the extra man, and have scored on four of their last six extra man opportunities.

They are No.1 in the league at home converting almost 25 percent (17-for-69) of their chances.

Their penalty kill hasn’t been too shabby either lately. Washington has not allowed a goal at home while down a man in nine straight games. The last time Washington allowed an opponent to score with the extra man was the day after Thanksgiving during a 6-3 loss to the Rangers.

 They are fourth in the NHL at home on the penalty kill and 13th overall. The capitals kill off almost 83 percent of all shorthanded situations.

UNDER HUNTER:

The first thing that is obvious watching the Capitals play under Dale Hunter is the discipline they seem to have that was lacking under the previous administration. It is starting to show up in all of the right places. As I just noted, special teams play is one area the Caps are performing much better in, and the second area, is on defense this season.

Hunter’s system is creating offensive chances by forcing teams to make mistakes and by being a more disciplined and responsible back checking team. The Capitals are doing that better on a nightly basis and the numbers are starting to prove it. Washington never could seem to kill penalties and score on the power play under Boudreau, under Hunter, both units are falling into line quite nicely. Besides the wins that are starting to mount, the oppositions goal output is going down.

Washington has allowed just 2.25 goals per game under Hunter, more than a full goal less than they averaged under Bruce Boudreau (3, 27) through 22 games this season. The Capitals have surrendered two or fewer goals in 11 of 16 games (68.8%) under Hunter. However, during their 50 game run last season in which Boudreau changed to a more defensive system, the Capitals allowed two or fewer goals in 35 of those last 50 (70%) regular season contests.

The Caps aren’t scoring as much under Hunter as they did Gabby, but they are certainly playing with a much more focused approach and committing a lot less costly mistakes. Hunters system is a better playoff system than Boudreau's, especially when you consider Hunter will ride it from day one, and preach it religiously. Consistency with a group like this could be the differences in the locker room come spring time.

VOKOUN STAYS HOT:

Tomas Vokoun, starting his fourth consecutive game, was stellar in net stopping 18 of 19 shots for his 16th win of the year. Vokoun has now stopped 125 of the last 131 shots he has faced, but he is getting some help. The capitals are controlling the puck at faceoff circle, and blocking shots. Versus the Flames, Washington blocked a season-high 24 shots, won 63 percent of its face-offs.

Tomas Vokoun is 14-4-3-1 with a 1.88 goals-against average, a .935 save percentage and two shutouts in 24 career games against Calgary

ODDS AND ENDS:

The Capitals are 6-1-0 in their last seven home games, outscoring their opponents 27-13 in that span. Washington pushed their regular-season streak of games with at least one goal scored to 38 games to start the 2011-12 season, the longest streak to start a season since Washington went 31 games without being shut out to kick off the 2009-10 campaign and the second-longest streak since the Capitals went the entire 80-game schedule without being shutout in both the 1990-91 and 1991-92 seasons.

NEXT OPPONENT:

The Caps travel to San Jose California Saturday night for a tilt at the Shark Tank. Washington is 9-18-1 in 29 games vs. the San Jose Sharks.

The Caps have not won in No.Cal since the Clinton Presidency, Oct. 30, 1993 to be exact. The winning goalie that night for the Caps was Rick Tabaracci, as Craig Berube, Peter Bondra, Keith Jones, and Mike Ridley scored for Washington during the Caps 4-2 win. 

Terry Murray was behind the bench for Washington to start that season but he didn’t finish there. Jim Schoenfeld took over after 47 games.