December 11 vs. Carolina Hurricanes at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Pre-Cap Podcast at 2 p.m. and Two-Man Advantage at 6:15 on washingtoncaps.com
Carolina Hurricanes (7-18-5)
Washington Capitals (19-6-6)
In the midst of playing five games in five different cities in a span of just eight nights, the Caps return to the District for the lone home game in the bunch. Washington plays host to Southeast Division rival Carolina for the first time this season on Saturday night.
The Caps and Canes are meeting again 11 days after the two teams hooked up for the first time this season in Carolina on Nov. 30. Washington took a 3-2 decision from the Hurricanes in that one.
After taking the first two games of a recent three-game road trip by a combined count of 11-2 in Philadelphia and Tampa, respectively, the Caps closed the road show with a 3-0 loss at Buffalo on Wednesday. That shutout setback was the first for the Caps this season, and it also put a stop to Washington’s second six-game winning streak of the campaign.
Buffalo netminder Ryan Miller was very sharp. He made 35 saves in recording his 16th career shutout and his fourth against Washington. But the Caps weren’t happy with their overall effort against the Sabres. They squandered some early scoring chances that could have put a different paint job on the game.
“It just seems like when we lose or have bad periods or bad games it comes from us beating ourselves a lot of times,” says Caps captain Chris Clark.
Going into Thursday’s slate of NHL activity, Washington remains atop the NHL’s Southeast Division and Eastern Conference standings, and it is also in the top spot in the league overall. Clark dismissed thoughts that the Caps’ lofty perch might have made them complacent.
“It’s so early,” says Clark. “You can’t tell. It doesn’t mean anything. We won six in a row. We should have won seven in a row but we didn’t. We’ll start a new streak and hopefully get back up there.”
Under Caps coach Bruce Boudreau, the Caps rarely endure consecutive regulation losses. They are 7-0 against Southeast Division foes this season, the only club in the league to be unbeaten against its own division.
The Capitals expect to have forwards Mike Knuble and Matt Bradley back in their lineup on Friday. Knuble missed the last 13 games with a broken finger and Bradley missed the last pair of games while his wife gave birth to their first child. Washington reassigned forwards Alexandre Giroux and Keith Aucoin to Hershey of the AHL on Thursday.
Washington took Thursday off before Friday’s clash with Carolina. The Caps will head back out on the road immediately after the game with the Hurricanes. Washington’s Saturday night visit to Toronto is the first of four straight on the road, so Thursday’s off day was a welcome respite from the rigors of hockey.
“We’ve got to regroup, rest a little bit, get hockey off our mind and come back Friday and win the game at home,” says Caps left wing Tomas Fleischmann.
Carolina hits town in the midst of a four-game road trip. The Canes ended a 0-10-3 road skid to start the 2009-10 season when they finally earned their first road win of the season in the trip opener at Pittsburgh on Monday night. The Hurricanes fell in New Jersey on Wednesday and will finish their journey on Saturday in Ottawa.
The Hurricanes endured a 14-game winless streak (0-10-4) earlier this season and they’ve been mired in the Eastern Conference basement for most of the season. Carolina is currently eight points behind 14th place Toronto in the conference standings.
Goaltender Cam Ward suffered a cut to the inside of his leg from Rick Nash’s skate in a Nov. 7 game against the Blue Jackets and he missed the next month (13 games) of action. Ward returned to the Carolina lineup for Wednesday’s game against New Jersey, making 27 saves in a 4-2 loss to the Devils.
Although Ward is 2-10-3 this season and the back-up tandem of Manny Legace and the recently waived Michael Leighton is a combined 5-9-3, Ward’s peripheral numbers are better. He has posted a 2.97 GAA and a .900 save pct. compared to a 3.57 GAA and an .877 save pct. for the combo of Legace and Leighton.
Ward has been a Washington nemesis in the past. He is 12-5-2 with three shutouts, a 2.54 GAA and a .920 save pct. lifetime against the Capitals. Ward is just 4-4-1 with a 3.18 GAA and a .905 save pct. in 10 career starts at MCI Center.
Ward helped lead the Hurricanes to the 2006 Stanley Cup championship, earning the Conn Smythe Trophy in the process. He took over the starting reins for Carolina the next season and has been between the pipes for 108 of the Hurricanes’ 135 (80%) regular season wins since.
When the Caps and Canes last met on Nov. 30 in Raleigh, Carolina was mired in a 2-for-32 (5.3%) power play slump over its previous seven games. The Hurricanes’ extra-man unit clicked on one of its seven chances in that game against the Capitals, and it has scored once in every game since. The Canes are 4-for-18 (22.2%) on the power play in their last four games, but they are still 28th in the NHL on the season with a 14.1% success rate.