October 27 vs. Carolina Hurricanes at RBC Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Capitals Report/Pre-Cap Pre-game Podcast on washingtoncaps.com at 2 p.m.
Washington Capitals (5-3-0)
Carolina Hurricanes (4-3-0)
For the third time in four road games, the Capitals will supply the opposition for the home opener of a foe. Washington opens its first extended road trip of the 2010-11 season when it visits Raleigh for the Carolina Hurricanes’ home opener on Wednesday night.
The Capitals are coming off a 4-3 overtime win over the Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday at Verizon Center. That victory was Washington’s third overtime triumph of the young season. Now, the battered Caps take to the road for three games in four nights in three time zones and two countries.
Prior to this trip, each of Washington’s three road trips in 2010-11 was a one-game excursion.
Washington’s Saturday night win halted a brief two-game losing skid, with both of those setbacks coming at the hands of the Boston Bruins. Prior to those losses, the Caps had earned four straight wins.
The Caps have scored the game’s first goal only twice in their eight contests to date, but they’re 4-2 thus far when giving up the game’s first goal.
Washington is 1-2 in its three road games of 2010-11. The Caps got on the board first in the season opener at Atlanta on Oct. 8 when Brooks Laich scored the season’s first goal at 3:18 of the first period. That lead lasted for all of 4:39, and that is the sum total of which Washington has held the lead on the road this season. The Caps came from behind to win in overtime at Nashville on Oct. 16, but the only time they held the lead was when Laich scored to end the game.
Before leaving Washington, the Caps made another recall from AHL Hershey. Defenseman Brian Fahey was summoned to the District because veteran Tom Poti – who has played in just half of the Caps’ games to date this season – will stay back and get treatment for his ailment.
“He’s not going to make the trip,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau of Poti. “Or if he does, he’ll meet us somewhere on the road. We just thought it would be better for him to stay back and be treated.”
Netminder Semyon Varlamov will also be staying in D.C. to nurse an injury. As a result, 21-year-old goaltender Braden Holtby was called up from Hershey on Monday. Holtby spent some time with Washington last season, filling in as a backup for various injured netminders, but he has yet to make his NHL debut.
A native of Saskatchewan, Holtby knows that the second and third stops on this trip – Minnesota and Calgary – are close enough to his home that his family could drive to the game.
If Holtby is to get the net for the first time in the NHL on this trip, it would be extremely fortuitous.
“Obviously, I’ve thought about it,” admits Holtby. “It’s pretty good timing if it does happen that I get to go on the trip. The Caps don’t go to Western Canada very often, basically once a year. It’s pretty fortunate, the timing. I’m looking forward to it. At the same time, there’s still a job to be done. Hopefully if I get a start, I can really focus on getting a win.”
Boudreau says Michal Neuvirth – who has earned all five of Washington’s wins this season – will get the start on Wednesday against the Hurricanes. After that, the Caps’ staff will take the goaltending decisions a day at a time.
Injured forwards Matt Bradley and Boyd Gordon are both on the trip and both are believed ready to return to action. Some roster gymnastics might be necessary to make that happen, but Boudreau also alluded to the possibility that Bradley and/or Gordon may not return to the lineup right away.
“I’m sure Tom Poti would be put on IR,” says Boudreau, “and we still have other guys on IR right now that wouldn’t necessarily have to come off on Wednesday or Thursday. And when I say they don’t have to come off, they’re making the trip but they might not be ready to play.”
Washington stands 18th in the league in face-off pct. at 49.7%. The Caps’ power play unit ranks 21st in the league with a 12.1% extra-man success rate, but two of Washington’s game-winning goals came on power play strikes. The Capitals’ penalty killing outfit stands seventh in the league with a kill rate of 88.6%.
Carolina opened up the season with a pair of games against the Minnesota Wild in Helsinki, Finland. Since returning to the states, the nomadic Hurricanes have played nothing but road tilts, visiting Ottawa, Vancouver, San Jose, Los Angeles and Phoenix. That’s five games in 10 nights (the middle three were played in span of four nights) against five playoff teams from last season.
The Hurricanes came out of that rugged stretch of road in reasonably good shape, with a 4-3 record.
“We’re not going to get too greedy,” says Hurricanes captain Eric Staal. “We played some pretty good hockey here in the last little bit. We played some tough teams, played some playoff teams the last trip. We’re above .500 and we’re in the mix. That’s a good thing. We’ve got to build it towards getting better and climbing up the ladder.”
Now the Hurricanes are finally back home to take on the Capitals. The Canes will take to the road again after Wednesday’s game; they’ve got a Friday date with the Rangers in New York.
“I thought our last three games we started to identify a style of play that we like,” says Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice, “that we’ve been trying to ensure that we play. And the players are starting to see the good things that happen, our last three games especially. And that’s where if you have confidence coming off that trip, that’s where it’s built, in the quality of play.”
Regardless of which team has had the upper hand in the league standings over the years, Capitals-Hurricanes games are generally hard-fought and close games.
“They’re good,” says Boudreau of the Hurricanes. “They’re fast. They play hard against us. They get up for us; it’s a divisional game. It was the same thing in reverse when we were not so good. I remember the Capitals beating Carolina when they were in first place all the time. Last year at the end of the year they did it a couple times to us.
“You get those divisional games and whether it’s our division, the Atlantic Division or whatever division, and it seems the games are way more intense. Each team takes them a lot more seriously.”
A 14-game losing streak early last season doomed the Canes, but they rebounded nicely and were a tough foe over the season’s final four months. Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford is one of the most underrated managers in the game, and he did a good job at the trade deadline last winter. Rutherford moved out some of his older players and some salary as well.
If there is one attribute that Carolina seems to have year in and year out, it’s speed.
“Absolutely, yeah,” says Boudreau, when asked if the Canes’ identity is one of speed. “They’re quick. And you might not know the names but they still are quick. And they’re a lot younger this year. They don’t have [Rod] Brind’Amour, they don’t have [Ray] Whitney and they don’t have [Scott] Walker, three of their older guys from last year.
“Now they’ve got that young energy going, so it’s a different scenario there.”
Carolina is the league’s lowest ranked club in terms of face-off prowess with a lowly 36.5% winning rate in the circle. The Canes’ power play ranks 17th in the circuit with a 12.9% efficiency rate. The Hurricanes have killed off 76.7% of the opposition’s power play chances to rank 26th in the NHL in that department.