March 18 vs. Carolina Hurricanes at RBC Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM, 106.7 FM and XM Pre-Game: Pre-Cap Podcast on www.washingtoncaps.com at 7:00 p.m.
Washington Capitals (47-14-9)
Carolina Hurricanes (28-33-8)
Washington continues its four-game road trip with a Thursday night visit with the Carolina Hurricanes at the RBC Center. With wins in the first two stops on the trip in Chicago and Florida, the Caps have put themselves in position to tie the single-season franchise record for road victories if they can take two points from the Hurricanes. The Capitals are 9-1-2 in their last dozen road games.
The Caps won in their only previous visit to Raleigh this season, a 3-2 win over the Canes back on Nov. 30. Washington is 16-3 against Southeast Division foes this season, with two of those losses coming on Verizon Center ice.
Playing without superstar left wing Alex Ovechkin, the Caps waylaid the Florida Panthers by a 7-3 count on Tuesday night. Six different Capitals found the back of the net in Ovechkin’s absence. Washington has averaged 4.89 goals per game in the nine games in which Ovechkin has not played, posting a 7-2 mark in those contests.
Ovechkin will also sit out the Thursday game against Carolina. He was assessed a two-game suspension by the NHL for his first-period hit in Sunday’s 4-3 overtime win at Chicago, the trip opener.
Since taking over the team captaincy early in January, Ovechkin has helped lead the Capitals to a 23-3-3 record since, a stretch that follows Washington’s only span this season in which it dropped three straight games in regulation.
Jose Theodore and Semyon Varlamov alternated starts in each of the first six games following the Olympic break, but Theodore started and won each of the last two. One reason Theodore got a second straight start was because of his previous success against the Panthers and in BankAtlantic Center. The veteran Caps goalie recorded his 25th win of the season on Tuesday against the Cats, marking the third straight season in which he has reached that plateau.
Theodore is in the midst of a remarkable 15-0-2 run in which he has compiled a 2.48 GAA and a .924 save pct. He has won five straight starts.
Despite Theodore’s success over the last couple months, Washington is likely to go back to Varlamov for Thursday’s game in Raleigh. And since Varlamov has displayed some previous success against the Lightning and in Tampa Bay, he could find himself getting successive starts to conclude the Caps’ current road trip.
Washington has scored at least one power play goal in each of its last half dozen games, going 9-for-24 (37.5%) with the extra man during that stretch. The Caps have clicked at a 26.2% rate with the manpower advantage this season, a figure that leads the league and would be the best mark in franchise history.
Carolina has put on a strong late-season surge, but the Canes’ early-season woes put them in such a deep standings hole that they’ve been unable to get within a sniff of the eighth-place spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
In the short term, Carolina is 2-4 in its last six games. But the Canes have rolled up a 14-6-1 mark in their last 21 games, a span that is equal to a quarter of a season.
Carolina’s special teams have been excellent during that 21-game span. The Canes are clicking along at 22.5% on the power play during that stretch and have successfully killed off 87.8% of the opposition’s manpower advantage opportunities over the same period.
Hurricanes head coach Paul Maurice is close friends with Panthers bench boss Pete DeBoer, and the two had a conversation about the Caps’ win over the Cats on Tuesday.
“I talked to the Florida Panthers coach because he had faced the Ovechkin-less Washington Capitals I think three times this year and had gotten the doors blown off them each time,” relates Maurice. “He was less pleased to see [Ovechkin] wasn’t going to be in the lineup. They’ve got four or five guys in the lineup there that can play and replace Ovechkin. Sometimes your game becomes a little simpler and you can be just as effective.”
While the Caps were pasting the Panthers, the Hurricanes hosted Boston on Tuesday, dropping a 5-2 decision to the Bruins. In that game, Maurice coached his 800th game with the Hurricanes. He is just the 10th coach ever – and third active coach – to man the bench for 800 or more games with the same franchise. Buffalo’s Lindy Ruff and Nashville’s Barry Trotz are the other active coaches who have achieved that milestone.
The Hurricanes are 18-14-3 on home ice this season. They’ve won eight of their last 10 on RBC Center ice.
Notes: The Caps have had 30 or more shots on goal in five straight games and eight of their last nine.