November 30 vs. Carolina Hurricanes at RBC Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Pre-Cap Podcast at 2 p.m. on washingtoncaps.com
Washington Capitals (15-5-6)
Carolina Hurricanes (5-16-5)
The Capitals and the Carolina Hurricanes became division-mates in 1998-99 when the NHL gerrymandered the circuit and realigned the Caps into the then-new Southeast Division. In all the years the Caps and Canes have been divisional rivals, they’ve never met for the first time in the season as late as they are in 2009-10.
Monday’s match between the Caps and Canes comes a third of the way through the regular season slate for both teams, in game No. 27. The latest the two teams had previously faced one another in their first match of the season was in game No. 16 in 2001-02 and again in 2003-04.
“They’re a team that we play a lot of times,” says Caps winger Matt Bradley. “It seems in the last couple of years that we’ve played them more than we actually have. To not have played them 26 games into the season is pretty bizarre, but it means we’re going to play them a lot more in the second half of the season.”
The Caps are finishing up a two-game road tour that started on Saturday night in Montreal with a 4-3 shootout win against the Canadiens.
After a 1-2-2 run, Washington has won two straight as it looks to put together a winning streak. Eric Fehr (three goals) and Alex Ovechkin (two goals) have supplied all the offense in the Capitals’ two victories.
Fehr’s power play goal in the final seconds of regulation enabled the Capitals to tie Saturday’s game in Montreal at 3-3. Nicklas Backstrom was able to win it for Washington in the shootout; he was the lone scorer for either side among the half dozen shooters in the skills competition.
The team’s late heroics enabled it to overcome squandering an early 2-0 lead and falling into a 3-2 third-period hole.
“I’m glad we came back,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “That’s the first time we’ve scored with the goalie pulled [this season]. I think we only had like 15 shots on goal at that time. I wasn’t too hopeful until the last three minutes when we started to put a little bit of a push on.
“They played a really, really good defensive game. They allowed no second shots and they were standing up and getting in our face all the time. It was a tough game.”
After scoring the game’s first goal, Fehr came through in the clutch. Playing in the 124th game of his NHL career, Fehr skated a single-game career high of 17:13 and recorded the first two-goal game of his career.
“When Eric is going to the net with reckless abandon, ”notes Boudreau, “then he’s really good. On both goals he goes to the net and he gets the tip and gets the rebound. That’s when I know that he’s playing with a little bit of confidence and he’s playing like I’ve known him to play in the American League.
“When he plays on the perimeter and just hopes his shots go in, he’s not as effective. I thought tonight he had a good game. That’s why he played in the overtime.”
After taking a 2-0 lead, the Caps fell behind 3-2 on Travis Moen’s power play goal in the third. It took some late heroics to win it.
“It’s obviously not the prettiest win,” admits Bradley, “but it’s a win nonetheless. We need those points. It was good for the guys to come back and win it late in the game like that. We did a lot of that in the last couple of years; we haven’t done it so much this year. It’s nice to show some character and come back and win the game.”
Caps goaltender Semyon Varlamov, making a fourth straight start of the first time in his NHL career, made 21 saves against the Habs to push his record to 10-1-2 on the season and 14-1-3 for his NHL career.
“He kept us in the game,” asserts Boudreau. “He made three unbelievable saves when they had a 3-2 lead to keep us in the game. You just look at his record. In 13 games he has lost only one. And he keeps getting better.”
While the Caps are closing a two-game road trip with Monday’s game, the Hurricanes are opening a two-game homestand.
Months after they faced the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2009 Eastern Conference finals, the Hurricanes are off to a dismal start.
Carolina suffered through a 14-game winless streak (0-10-4) early this season before rebounding with a stretch in which they earned at least a point in five straight games (3-0-2). The Hurricanes have followed that by dropping four straight games in regulation.
On Friday night at the RBC Center, the Canes took a 4-1 lead into the third period only to surrender five final-frame goals on their way to a 6-4 setback at the hands of the Atlanta Thrashers. It was the first time in more than four years that Carolina had allowed as many as five goals in a period, and the first time in nearly 17 years that the team coughed up a three-goal, third-period lead in a regulation loss.
One night later, Carolina nursed a 1-0 lead into the third period at Buffalo. The Canes again surrendered five goals in the third to fall 5-1.
Carolina has lost several key players to injury for short and long stretches. Only eight Hurricanes have played in all 26 of the team’s games to date. Most significantly, goaltender Cam Ward has missed the Canes’ last 10 games after suffering a cut on his leg. Ward had started 15 of Carolina’s first 16 games before he went down in a Nov. 7 game against Columbus.
The Hurricanes signed veteran journeyman goalie Manny Legace to fill in during Ward’s absence. Legace is 2-4-2 with a 3.23 GAA and an .890 save pct. since joining the Canes earlier this month.
The Hurricanes have been somewhat respectable (5-6-2) on home ice this season, but they are winless (0-10-3) in 13 road games to date.