November 24 vs. Carolina Hurricanes at RBC Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Capitals Report/Pre-Cap Podcast at 2 pm on washingtoncaps.com
Washington Capitals (14-6-2)
Carolina Hurricanes (9-9-2)
Two nights after a 5-0 whitewashing at the hands of the Devils in New Jersey, the Capitals close out a quick two-game road trip with their second visit to Carolina to face the Hurricanes this season. The game marked Washington's second straight road setback by the same 5-0 score.
“I think it’s safe to say that in games against Atlanta and [New Jersey Monday] night, the first periods – for whatever reason – they came out sleeping," says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau of his team's performance in its two most recent road games. "That has to get better. More times than not, our work ethic is more than fine. We’ve outworked teams a lot of times and that’s why we’ve been successful with four lines working.
“I’m hoping it’s an anomaly. You don’t like to say every team goes through it, because then that puts you in an excuse mode. But it’s something that’s new to us, and we just have to deal with it."
Consecutive shutout losses on the road is an occurrence that has now taken place just half a dozen times in the franchise’s 36-year history. Even after a long and ugly weekend in which Washington went 0-2-1 while playing three games in four nights and giving up 14 goals in the process, the Capitals still woke up tied with Philadelphia for the best record in the league on Tuesday.
They also woke up and faced the specter of a long video session followed by a rigorous practice at Raleigh’s RBC Center on Tuesday, in preparation for Wednesday’s divisional contest with the Hurricanes.
“I thought we handled it,” says Boudreau, speaking of his team’s work in Tuesday’s practice. “The proof is in the pudding and we haven’t seen the results of it, but I thought today was a good day. We’ll see how it works out [Wednesday].”
Earlier this season, the Caps played their best game of the season – home or road – against the Canes in Carolina.
Behind a 29-save effort from rookie goaltender Michal Neuvirth, Washington whitewashed the Canes 3-0 in Raleigh on Oct. 27. Neuvirth’s shutout was just the second ever recorded by a Capitals goaltender in Raleigh and the first since Olie Kolzig blanked the Canes on the road on March 18, 1998.
“It was our best game of the year,” declares Boudreau. “It was complete from the first period to the third period. We’ve been struggling. There are teams that will look at our record and say, ‘Yeah, yeah. Poor babies.’
“To put 60 minutes together to the quality that we would like the 60 minutes, but sometimes we look at it, and the quality we want is almost unattainable. If you get 20 shots one periods, they’re saying, ‘You only got eight in the second period, how come you didn’t get 20 more? How come it’s not in the third period?’
“It’s a strive for perfection. And I think that’s a good thing.”
Whether or not Neuvirth will be available for an encore performance in Raleigh on Monday remains to be seen. Slated to start Monday’s game in New Jersey, Neuvirth “tweaked” something in his lower body at the morning skate prior to the Devils game and was scratched in favor of fellow freshman Braden Holtby.
Neuvirth did not take the ice for Tuesday’s practice, and the Caps are currently carrying three netminders. Semyon Varlamov was summoned from AHL Hershey on Monday after Neuvirth’s injury came to light.
“That was more precautionary than anything else,” says Boudreau of Neuvirth’s absence from Tuesday’s practice. “He should be fine for [Wednesday], according to our training staff. He felt really good, but they thought one more day [off] would be really good for him.”
The Capitals set a franchise record with 24 road wins last season, but they’re off to a pedestrian 4-5-1 start away from Verizon Center in 2010-11. Averaging more than four goals a game at home, the Caps have scored just 2.4 goals per game on the road this season.
Only three Caps – defensemen Mike Green, John Erskine and Karl Alzner – has piled up more points on the road than at home this season, and each of those three players has just a single point more away from Verizon Center.
“Sometimes when you’re on the road and the other team gets the first goal,” says Caps right wing Eric Fehr. “It’s tough to get a good push to get back in the game. When you’re at home if they score the first game, the crowd is behind you. It just seems like you can create momentum a little bit easier at home.”
The Hurricanes have been at home and idle since Saturday’s 2-1 shootout setback at the hands of the Nashville Predators.
One team or the other has scored at least four goals in seven of Carolina’s last nine games. One team or the other has tallied at least seven goals in six of those nine contests.
Carolina has dropped four of its last five (1-2-2) and sits squarely at the break-even point 20 games into the season.
Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford has always shown a willingness to shuffle the deck and make a deal and he has made some personnel tweaks to his team’s roster since the Caps last saw the Canes.
Most significantly, Rutherford moved No. 5 defenseman (in terms of ice time) Anton Babchuk and energy forward Tom Kostopoulos to Calgary in exchange for No. 3 defenseman Ian White and forward Brett Sutter.
White upgrades a Carolina backline that had been thin and shaky in the season’s early going. Rutherford also claimed fourth-line forward Troy Bodie off waivers from Anaheim and waived forward Patrick O’Sullivan, who was claimed by the Minnesota Wild.
On Tuesday, Rutherford dealt a pair of minor league forwards (Stefan Chaput and Matt Kennedy) to the Ducks for center Ryan Carter.
“Ryan is an experienced player that can give us more balance down the middle and strengthen our penalty kill,” says Rutherford, in a statement released by the team.
Carolina has had no trouble scoring goals this season; the Hurricanes rank fifth in the league in that department. But despite having one of the game’s most respected goaltenders in Cam Ward, Carolina is 28th in the league in goals against.
The Hurricanes are fourth in the Southeast Division standings, just a single point out of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference standings.