The Washington Capitals (10-13-1) are in a dire situation tonight as they get set to host the Southeast division leading Carolina Hurricanes (14-9-1). A loss to the Canes and the Capitals will trail their division foe by 10-points. A victory over Carolina closes the gap to a manageable six-point deficit with a chance to make it four Thursday when the Capitals travel to Carolina to finish off the home and home.

The Capitals enter play today 12th in the Eastern Conference, seven points behind the New York Rangers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the east.

The next three days and two games could actually be the actual make or break point in the Capitals season.  The good news is the Capitals have compiled a 6-2-0 record against teams from the Southeast Division this season, the second-best record in Southeast divisional play. Washington has won its last six contests against Southeast Division teams, having outscored its opponents 13-1 in the last three contests.

The Capitals earned a 3-0 shutout over Carolina on Feb. 26 at Verizon Center and leads, 78-46-14-7 entering the 146th meeting (44-21-4-3 at home). Recently, Washington is 9-2-2 in its last 13 games overall against Carolina. The Capitals are 8-1-2 in their last 11 home games against Carolina. The Capitals have not lost in regulation to Carolina at home since Dec. 28, 2009 (6-3).

The Capitals are nursing slim playoff chances at the moment. During a normal 82 game season, losing 5-2 to the New York Islanders in Uniondale and dropping a 4-1decision to the New York Rangers at home would be cause for concern. However, halfway through the 48 game slate, according to sportsclubstats.com, Washington has a 13.8 percent chance of making it to the 49th game of the season.

The site says that Washington has a 52 percent chance of postseason play with 52-points but if they could somehow manage to earn one more point, that percentage jumps to 74. The next 10 days is likely to determine the fate of Washington’s season.

The Capitals play eight games between now and March 24. Seven of the eight games are against teams that are ahead of the Capitals and not just slightly. To make matters worse, six of the eight games are on the road where Washington has won just three of 11-games this season.

Washington will face the Hurricanes twice, Bruins, Penguins, Rangers and play two very critical back-to-back games in Winnipeg against the Jets on consecutive days. The only team the Caps play with a losing record is the Buffalo Sabres this Sunday at Verizon Center.

The Capitals at worst need to finish the season 14-7-3 (.645 point percentage) to hit 52-points to have a chance at the eighth and final playoff spot . However, when you factor in the Rangers current pace in the eighth spot, Washington is likely to need 57 points to play in the playoffs for a sixth straight season. New York has already defeated the Caps twice this season and the two teams play just once more.

For the Caps to get 36 points in the season’s second half, they would need to post a record of 18-6-0 over their last 24 games. That would mean winning 75 percent of their games. The good news about the  stretch of games the Caps are about to embark on is that when it is finished, we should know if the Caps are buyers or sellers once the April 3 trade deadline comes.

A BETTER WEEK AHEAD FOR THE CAPTAIN:

Aside from needing to win three of every four games the rest of the season to make the playoffs, the big news heading into tonight is the next career milestone Caps captain Alex Ovechkin is set to reach.

The Great 8 has collected 699 career NHL points in his first eight seasons in the league. Ovechkin is one point shy of becoming just the third player to record 700 points while with Washington and would become just the 22nd player in NHL history to record 700 or more points in their first eight seasons in the league.

Ovechkin is in need of a good confidence boosting game. He did not have a particularly good week last week. Despite a week that saw his team go 2-2-0 with a three-goal comeback win against the Bruins and a six-goal victory against the Florida Panthers, Ovie appeared to be lost in the system at times.

His contribution was one goal and three assists, but this came in a week in which the Capitals lit the lamp 14-times. Disturbing was his play away from the puck. Ovechkin finished the week a minus one. He is coming off consecutive games in which he was a minus-2 and minus-3 respectively. He collected three penalties in the Boston game, and committed two minor penalties within 10 seconds against the Rangers on Sunday. Both led to goals for the Blueshirts.

In fact, Ovie could be held accountable for three of the Rangers four goals that afternoon. His phantom check on the Rangers Ryan McDonagh at mid ice, and failure to drop his stick led to an odd man rush, which resulted in Derek Stepan scoring NY’s first goal of the game.

Ovechkin is an obvious two-way funk and if the Capitals have any shot at making the playoffs, he must improve his play both on the score sheet and on defense. Twice in the past 10 days bad plays by Ovechkin, which led to goals also led to Caps starting goalie Braden Holtby being pulled. Immediately following the Rangers third goal of the game on Sunday, the second tally in a .41-second span Holtby was yanked in favor of Michael Neuvirth. Holtby was not happy about head coach Adam Oates decision and was seen slamming his stick against the wall as he walked to the Caps dressing room.

Maybe playing tonight against his old partner in crime, Alexander Semin will motivate the Great 8 to get his two-way game going.

Quite a start:

Capitals defenseman Steve Oleksy was signed and recalled from Hershey on March 4. He made his NHL debut on March 5 vs. Boston and tallied his first career NHL point (an assist). On March 7 vs. Florida, Oleksy collected his first career multi-point game with two assists, led the Capitals in ice time (22:13), and blocked shots (4). On March 10 against the Rangers, Oleksy scored his first career NHL goal. The native of Chesterfield, Michigan, has collected four points in his first four NHL games.

SPEAKING OF SEMIN:

Alexander Semin will be making his second trip to Verizon Center since signing with the Hurricanes this off-season. The Capitals fifth all-time leading goal scorer (197) was a minus-1 and had four shots on goal during the Canes 3-0 loss on Feb 26.

Through 24 games this season, Semin leads all Hurricanes skaters in assists (19), ranks second in points (26), leads all Carolina forwards in average ice time per game (20:44), and ranks third in the NHL in plus/minus (+18). Semin was a first-round pick (13th overall) of the Capitals in 2002, and played seven seasons in Washington before signing with Carolina as a free agent on July 26, 2012. The Krasnoyarsk, Russia, native ranks fifth in Capitals history in goals (197), is tied for 14th in points (408), and ranks fifth in the NHL in plus/minus (+110) over the last five seasons, behind only H. Sedin, Burrows, Chara and D. Sedin. Semin has 10 points in five games, including three three-point games.

SCORING STARS BEHIND THE BENCH:

Tonight’s game will feature two head coaches with the most points during their respective playing careers. Adam Oates compiled 1,420 career points as a player, the highest point total among all 30 NHL head coaches. Carolina head coach Kirk Muller ranks second with 959 career points.

MEDICAL WARD:

Missing from the Hurricanes lineup the rest of season is goalie Cam Ward. The former Conn Smythe winning goalie is out six to eight weeks after he sprained his MCL on March 3 against the Florida Panthers.

Ward was having a good season with a 9-6-1 mark and 2.84 goals against average. Former Dallas, Nashville, Tampa Bay and Anaheim backup--- Dan Ellis have replaced him.

Ellis is 4-2- with a 2.60 GAA this season and he is likely to face Barden Holtby.

Holtby has three shutouts this season, which are more than Washington’s team leader had in that department in 23 of the team’s previous 37 seasons of existence. With six career shutouts, Holtby has tied Pat Riggin and Rick Tabaracci for seventh on the franchise’s all-time list. Riggin needed 143 games to get his six shutouts; Tabaracci needed 69 games. Holtby recorded his sixth shutout in his 35th career NHL game.

Holtbeast is coming off a stretch where he started 11 consecutive games from Feb. 9 - March 7 vs. Florida. The last Capitals goaltender to start more than 11 straight games was Olie Kolzig, who started 16 consecutive games from Oct. 17, 2003 –Nov. 22, 2003.

Michal Neuvirth is 3-1-1 with a 2.66 GAA and one shutout in six appearances against Carolina. Braden Holtby is 2-0-0 with a 0.50 GAA and a shutout against the Hurricanes in two appearances

On the season, Holtby is 9-8-0 with a 2.96 G.A.A and a .909 save percentage. Holtby may have his work cut out for him tonight; Carolina has posted a 5-1-0 record and averaged 4.17 goals per game in its last six games. The Hurricanes ranked sixth in the NHL in goals per game (3.12) through games of March 10.

SCORING IN BUNCHES, HURRICANES NEWS AND NOTES:

The Hurricanes scored three goals in the second period on Saturday against New Jersey, marking the seventh time this season Carolina has scored three or more goals in a period. The Hurricanes are 7-0-0 this season when scoring three or more goals in a period. Carolina has outscored opponents 21-5 in second periods at home this season.

The Hurricanes scored two goals in a span of 28 seconds (Alexander Semin, 12:16; Jay Harrison, 12:44) in the first period on Saturday against New Jersey. The franchise record for fastest two goals scored is six seconds, when Sylvain Turgeon scored twice (13:59 and 14:05) in the second period of a 5-4 win against Pittsburgh on March 28, 1987. The Hurricanes are 5-1-0 this season in games when they score two goals in a span of one minute or less.

The Hurricanes are 2-5-0 against the Southeast Division this season and play four of their next five games against division opponents. The Hurricanes posted a 9-10-5 record against the Southeast Division in 2011-12. Since the division was created prior to the 1998-99 season, the Hurricanes have posted a record of 157-109-49-4 in 317 games against the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Winnipeg franchise. Carolina has 11 games remaining against Southeast Division teams in 2012-13.

The Hurricanes are 32-for-35 (91.4%) on the penalty kill in their last 11 games, after going 39-for-55 (70.9%) in their first 13 games.  Carolina is 13-for-91 (14.3%) on the power play and 71-for-90 (78.9%) on the penalty kill this season.

CAPITALS FINISHING NOTES:

UPCOMING CAREER MILESTONES

Wojtek Wolski is one goal away from 100 career NHL goals (99)

Alex Ovechkin is 1 point away from 700 career NHL points (699)

Jeff Schultz is eight games away from 400 career NHL games played (392)

Mike Ribeiro 12 points away from 600 career NHL points (588)

Nicklas Backstrom is 12 points away from 400 career NHL points (388)

INJURIES/ILLNESSES

F –Brooks Laich, missed 24 games (1/19-3/10)

D –Jack Hillen, missed 23 games (1/22-3/10)

D –Mike Green, missed 5 games (3/2-10)

D –John Erskine, missed 1 game (3/10)

Total Man-Games Lost: 76

The Capitals have been outscored 21-19 in the first period, 29-20 in the second and have outscored opponents 28-20 in the final frame. Washington continues to be a team that is polar opposites on special teams.

The Capitals are fourth in the NHL with the extra man (25.6) and 29th on the penalty kill (75.5).

Injury report for both teams from NHL.com

Injury report: Besides Ruutu, the Hurricanes will be without goalie Cam Ward (knee). Forward Chad LaRose(concussion) and defenseman Joni Pitkanen (lower body) are questionable. … For the Capitals, forward Brooks Laich (groin) and defensemen Mike Green (groin) and Jack Hillen (upper body) are out. Defenseman John Erskine (upper body) is questionable.