No Eastern Conference team was better than the Ottawa Senators last season. No team has ever been better than them at this point of a season.
The Senators look to extend the best start in NHL history and a franchise-record winning streak when they host the Washington Capitals on Thursday.
Coming off a 2006-07 season in which it reached the Stanley Cup finals, Ottawa (13-1-0) already has 26 points to record the best 14-game start of any team in league history. The Senators also go into this contest having won eight straight to set a team record.
The previous record point total through 14 games was 25, set by Detroit in 2005-06 and matched by Buffalo last season. Ottawa’s longest win streak had been seven in a row, first achieved from Oct. 25-Nov. 13, 2001.
“If you work hard and do a lot of good things and you have good players, good things can happen but I think the bottom line is you have to come to the rink every day to work, to be prepared to pay the price,” said Senators forward Daniel Alfredsson, among the league leaders with 20 points.
“Every team is pretty good these days. If you relax a little bit it’s going to be a long night and I think that’s been one of our keys, we’ve been mentally ready every night.”
It doesn’t seem like the last-place Capitals (5-9-1) should get in the way. They have lost four in a row and six of seven, and are 2-9-1 with one tie in the last 13 meetings with the Senators.
Ottawa opened a four-game homestand with a 5-1 win over Toronto on Tuesday. Patrick Eaves, Andrej Meszaros and Chris Kelly each had a goal and an assist for the Senators, who outshot the Maple Leafs 31-21.
Sens goalie Martin Gerber has been spectacular with a 10-1 record, a 1.80 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage. Gerber continues to see the bulk of the action in net even though last season’s starter, Ray Emery, has recovered from offseason wrist surgery.
First-year coach John Paddock announced Wednesday that Emery (2-0, 2.50 GAA) will get his third start Thursday.
“I understand if you’re winning, why mess with a good thing, right?” Emery told the team’s official Web site. “But I’m getting a chance to play (Thursday), and I’m happy for it.”
Even without Jason Spezza, who’ll miss his fifth straight game Thursday with a groin injury, Ottawa has remained one of the highest-scoring teams in the NHL behind Alfredsson and Dany Heatley (16 points). The Senators have scored 50 goals through 14 games.
The story’s quite different in Washington, which is among the league’s lowest-scoring teams with 34 goals and owns the worst record in the East. The Capitals have scored just three goals during their current four-game losing streak, which includes two shutouts.
Alexander Ovechkin leads the team with nine goals and 16 points, but is pointless in the last two games.
“We have experienced guys this year,” Ovechkin said. “I have more confidence this year, but we have to figure out why we’re not scoring more.”
They’re hoping a big name might make an impact. Forward Chris Bourque, the 21-year-old son of Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque, made his NHL debut in Washington’s 2-1 overtime loss to Atlanta on Tuesday.
Michael Nylander scored Washington’s lone goal in the third period to force overtime.
Goalie Olaf Kolzig, who had the night off Tuesday, has a 3.44 career GAA in 29 games against Ottawa—his worst mark against any Eastern Conference team.