Ottawa Senators at Washington Capitals on Oct. 11, 2010

Hands up if you ever thought the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers would be tied for first place in the NHL this season while the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators would be duking it out for sole possession of last

Ottawa Senators at Washington Capitals on Oct. 11, 2010
PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 13: Jason Spezza #19 of the Ottawa Senators handles the puck against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the game at Consol Energy Center on April 13, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Senators defeated the Penguins 3-2 in a shootout. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

THE STORY: Hands up if you thought the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers would ever be tied for first place in the NHL this season while the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators would be duking it out for sole possession of last. Sure, it’s only two games in, but the Senators are giving fans plenty of reason to worry. Their defence has looked disorganized and ineffective inside its own blue line, while the aging forwards don’t seem to have the wheels they used to. Do they just need to shake off some rust, or is there another issue here?

THE SUBPLOTS: If the Sens get smoked by the Caps, the potential exists for full-blown panic in the capital. Ottawa fans are notoriously jittery (remember Eugene Melnyk’s presser a few years back to calm the waters?) and wouldn’t take kindly to their boys coming home with an 0-3 record. The related hand-wringing on talk radio and in the papers will only add to the pressure.

THE WILDCARD: Erik Karlsson. The sophomore defenceman was expected to build on his late-season success last spring, but has regressed to the point of being almost unplayable. He bobbles the puck in dangerous areas, turns it over at the worst possible time and looks lost in all three zones of the ice. If the Senators are to be at all successful this season, they need him to be much, much better.

THE OPPONENT: As usual, the regular season is but a formality for the hockey players in that other national capital. The only games that matter at this point take place in the spring, when Washington will challenge for an overdue Stanley Cup. The words Ovechkin, Semin and Backstrom only begin to describe their offensive prowess, which was on full display in a 7-2 victory over Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils Saturday night.

THE QUOTE: “It’s very disappointing. We felt we had a pretty positive preseason, we had a good week of practice, but we’ve come out and been outworked, outcompeted, outexecuted in all areas.” — Senators coach Cory Clouston moments after his team suffered a 5-1 drubbing at the hands of divisional rival Toronto Saturday night.

THE USELESS (BUT KINDA COOL) FACTOID: According to the Internet Movie Database, Alexander Ovechkin’s “filmography” is eight appearances long. Methinks that should be a little higher. His credits include a cover shot for the video game NHL 2007 and an appearance at the NHL awards in 2008. He played himself each time.

THE SICK BAY: Senators — D Filip Kuba (broken leg, three weeks). Capitals — G Semyon Varlamov (undisclosed, injured reserve).

THE PREDICTION: Everyone made a big deal about the fact Sunday’s date was 10/10/10. If the Ottawa Senators play the way they did against Toronto and Buffalo over the weekend, they might see 10 pucks hit the back of their net when the face the Washington Capitals Monday night. While I don’t think it’ll be that bad, the Senators are like many folks with bad, destructive habits. They have to hit rock bottom before the recovery. Rock bottom is tonight. Caps take it 8-3, Sens bounce back at home later this week.

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