Pre-game notebook: Caps thinking payback

Pre-game notebook: Caps thinking payback
March 26, 2013, 5:30 pm
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News and notes as the Capitals [15-16-1, 31 points] and Islanders [14-15-3, 31 points] prepare for tonight’s puck drop at Verizon Center [6:30 p.m. Caps Central, CSN]:

What it means: The two teams are locked in a 10th-place tie in the Eastern Conference standings, one point behind the ninth-place Carolina Hurricanes and two behind the eighth-place New York Rangers. The Canes are home against the Winnipeg Jets tonight, while the Rangers visit the Flyers. If the Caps win in regulation and the Hurricanes and Rangers lose in regulation the Caps would grab the eighth spot in the conference.

Paybacks: The Islanders beat the Caps 5-2 in their last meeting on March 9 in Uniondale, greasing the skids for a three-game losing streak. The two teams were tied 2-2 midway through the third period in that game when consecutive double minors to Mike Ribeiro and Jeff Schultz led to back-to-back power-play goals by John Tavares.

“We have a score to settle with the Islanders,” Caps right wing Troy Brouwer said. “We had them in a good spot last time and penalty trouble got us in trouble. We need to get points and create some separation between us and the Islanders.”

Ovi’s haircut: Since getting his hair buzzed off, Alex Ovechkin has been a scoring machine with six goals in his last five games. As a guest on NHL Network on Monday Ovechkin explained why he opted for a buzz cut.

“My hair was too big and my head is big, so my helmet was too small, so I have to get my hair cut,” Ovechkin said.

More from Ovi: Ovechkin said he likes the communication he has had with first-year coach Adam Oates, especially compared to the relationship he had with Dale Hunter last season. Ovechkin said he talked with Hunter “once the whole time I worked with him.”

As for those critics who questioned Ovechkin’s work habits, he said, “You have to listen to nobody. The pressure is there and I love the pressure. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad. I just have to go and play and don’t listen to nobody.”

Trap game? Finding the intensity in the first game back from a lengthy road trip has always been a challenge for head coaches. Oates calls it a “weird phenomenon” and addressed it with his players on Tuesday morning,

“When you go on the road there’s a bit of an ‘us against them’ mentality,” Oates said. “You get home and you’re back in familiar surroundings with your family and friends and all of a sudden you have to jack it up and find that intensity again. We talked about it this morning. We can’t take them lightly. We’ve done a good job, but it’s not over.”

Checking Tavares: Islanders center John Tavares enters the game ranked second in the NHL goals race with 19 and his eighth in points with 34. The Isles are 13-6-2 when Tavares records a point and 1-9-1 when he’s held off the scoresheet.

Big hitter: Islanders left wing Matt Martin leads the NHL in hits this season with 157. He led the league last year as well with 374.

What’s next: The Capitals well get a three-day break in their schedule after tonight’s game, then will hit the road for weekend games in Buffalo on Saturday and Philadelphia on Sunday.