Feb. 26 vs. Carolina Hurricanes at Verizon Center
Time: 7 p.m.
TV: Comcast Sports Network
Radio: 106.7 The Fan and Caps Radio Network
Carolina Hurricanes (9-7-1)
Washington Capitals (6-10-1)
The Capitals conclude a three-game homestand and play the first of games on back-to-back nights on Tuesday when the Carolina Hurricanes make the first of their two visits to Verizon Center this season.
The game also starts a crucial stretch for the Caps in which Washington will play five of its next nine games against Southeast Division opponents. Included in that stretch are three games against the Hurricanes – three of the five between the two teams this season – starting with Tuesday’s tilt.
“They’re leading our division right now,” says Caps right wing Troy Brouwer of the Hurricanes, “so we’ve got to try to find a way to get closer to them. The best way to do that is obviously playing against them, trying to get two points.”
Washington split a pair of games against the New Jersey Devils to start the homestand. The Caps coughed up a 2-1 third-period lead in a 3-2 loss to the Devils on Thursday but rebounded with one of their best all-around performances of the season on Saturday in a 5-1 win over New Jersey in a matinee match at the Phone Booth.
“We’ve been playing good hockey as of late,” says Brouwer. “We felt we got robbed a few nights ago [on Thursday] and had a great game two nights ago [on Saturday]. So we’re going to continue to play good hockey and play the way we’ve been playing and hopefully that’s going to get us points and get us a win [Tuesday] night.”
“We need the points,” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “They do [too]. We’ve talked as every game is very important. We had a good game [Saturday] and hopefully we’ll come right back out and have another one and keep the ball rolling.”
Caps captain Alex Ovechkin recorded the 11th hat trick of his NHL career to help pace the Caps to victory in Saturday’s game.
Since he moved permanently to the right wing 10 games ago, Ovechkin has piled up 53 shots on goal and has attempted a total of 101 shots. He has had at least three shots on goal in 10 straight games for the first time in more than two years, and he has totaled six goals and 11 points in those 10 games.
Defenseman Mike Green has missed each of Washington’s last three games with a lower body injury. He is expected to return to the lineup for Tuesday’s game. Center Nicklas Backstrom missed Monday’s practice because of illness and left wing Jason Chimera left the session early with a lower-body injury. Neither Brooks Laich (lower body) nor Marcus Johansson (upper body) are ready to return to the lineup yet, so it’s likely Washington will recall a forward from AHL Hershey for Tuesday’s morning skate.
A day after signing a two-year contract extension, goaltender Braden Holtby will get the start on Tuesday against Carolina, his seventh straight start. Holtby won his only career start against Carolina, making 40 saves against the Canes on March 11, 2011 at Verizon Center.
Holtby’s run of seven straight starts is the longest by a Caps goaltender since Tomas Vokoun started 10 straight at the turn of the calendar from 2011 to 2012.
Holtby is 4-2 in his stretch of six straight starts with a shutout, a 2.33 GAA and a .926 save pct.
The Caps have played better in front of Holtby during that six-game stretch, and they basically need to win four of every six games the rest of the way. They’re still adjusting to Oates’ system, but they feel they’re getting closer to having it nailed down by the day.
“I think we’re almost there,” says Caps defenseman Jeff Schultz. “I would say we’re 85 or 90 percent [there]. There are still times out there where we over-backcheck or have three guys in the corner and leave the front of the net [unprotected] but we’re getting there. It’s really close. I think the more games we play consecutively the quicker we’re going to get to it.”
Carolina and Tampa Bay share the lead in the Southeast Division with 19 points, easily the lowest point total of any current NHL division leader. Washington is six points behind the Hurricanes, heading into Tuesday night’s divisional match-up.
“These are four-point games,” says Schultz. “No one has really taken off, so this is probably the most important segment of the year in terms of trying to move up and solidify who is going to be at the top of the division.”
With 31 games remaining, the Caps would finish with somewhere around 53 points if they are able to win four of every six games the rest of the way. That may or may not be enough to get them into the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“I think we’re playing better and I think everyone can see that,” says Holtby. “It’s showing more on the wins side of the board. There are still things to work on, obviously. We still have a bit of a hole to dig ourselves out of, but we’re definitely looking a lot stronger.”
Carolina halted a three-game losing streak with a 4-2 win over the Islanders in New York on Sunday night. The Canes rebounded from a two-goal deficit to score four unanswered goals in a span of 21:02, scoring their first goal of the game on a power-play with just 1:32 left in the second period.
Eric Staal scored that power-play goal – the Canes’ first in their last four games – and brother Jordan scored at even strength less than a minute later to even the score at 2-2. Bobby Sanguinetti’s first NHL goal proved to be the game-winner, and ex-Cap Alexander Semin supplied an insurance marker into a vacant New York net with 30 seconds remaining.
Semin spent the first seven seasons of his NHL career in Washington before signing with Carolina as a free agent last summer. He has four goals and 14 points in 17 games with the Hurricanes thus far this season.
“He’s a tremendous player,” says Caps defenseman Karl Alzner of Semin. “I’ve always wondered what it’s like to play against him. Sometimes when he scores goals or makes passes I’m just like, ‘Holy smokes, that must suck to be on the ice against him.’ And now I’m going to get to see what it’s like. Hopefully he doesn’t do anything too spectacular tomorrow, but it will be fun to see it.”
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