November 4 vs. Carolina Hurricanes at RBC Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 1500AM, XM and Caps Radio Network Pre-Game: Two-Man Advantage Pre-Game video at 1:00 p.m., Pre-Cap podcast at 2 p.m., John Walton’s one-on-one audio with Bruce Boudreau at 5 p.m., all on washingtoncaps.com
Washington Capitals (8-2)
Carolina Hurricanes (5-4-3)
Fresh from a thrilling 5-4 comeback win on home ice against the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday, the Caps head back out on the road for a pair of back-to-back weekend games, its first set of contests on consecutive nights this season. The first stop is Raleigh, where Washington will take on the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night.
You can’t win a set of back-to-backs unless you win the first one.
“It’s really nice to get the first one,” says Caps center Brooks Laich. “You really want to get the first one. Once you get that, then the second day you’re feeling good about yourself and you try to carry the previous night into the next night. So the first game becomes very important. But other than that, it’s still early in the year. Fatigue is not an issue or injuries or any of that; that shouldn’t play a part. Just concentrate on that first one, take care of business there. And then hopefully it will just snowball into the second one.”
Carolina is the first club the Capitals will be having their second look at this season. Washington opened its 2011-12 regular season slate with a 4-3 overtime win over the Canes at Verizon Center on Oct. 8.
Five of the seven goals in that Oct. 8 game against the Hurricanes were scored with one team having more skaters on the ice than the other, and Washington defenseman Mike Green won it with a 4-on-3 power play goal in overtime.
Although he did accompany the Capitals on the weekend journey, Green is not likely to be in the lineup for Friday’s game with Carolina. He has been sidelined with a lower body injury since Oct. 22 when he posted a four-point (two goals, two assists) night against the Red Wings in a 7-1 Washington win.
Also ailing is winger Troy Brouwer, who was checked into the boards by Ducks defenseman Toni Lydman late in the third period of Tuesday’s game.
After digging themselves a 3-0 hole by the middle point of he second period, the Caps roared back to topple the road-weary Ducks. Center Nicklas Backstrom scored the tying goal in the final minute of regulation and added the game-winner in overtime.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Backstrom is just the second player in Capitals franchise history to score a game-tying goal in the final minute of regulation and then supply the game-winner in overtime. Alex Ovechkin was the first; he turned the trick in Atlanta against the Thrashers on Dec. 15, 2006. Ovechkin supplied all of the Caps’ offense in that 3-2 victory.
The Caps lead NHL with an average of 3.9 goals per game, and the team’s 1.53 ratio of goals to goals against in 5-on-5 play is tops in the league. After finishing 19th in the league in scoring last season, one of the reasons for Washington’s offensive resurgence lies in its defense, or rather with its defensemen.
Led by Dennis Wideman (three goals, seven assists for 10 points), the Capitals are getting an average of 2.8 points per game from their blueliners this season. That ranks third in the NHL, just a shade behind Toronto (2.83 points per game) and Florida (2.82).
Washington has also been able to keep from overworking its blueliners thus far this season. Green leads the Caps with an average of 22:45 minutes per night in ice time, the third-lowest figure of any ice-time leading blueliner on his respective team in the NHL this season.
Only Phoenix’s Keith Yandle (21:55) and Philadelphia’s Matt Carle (22:03) have skated less on a per-night basis than Green while still shouldering the highest ice-time load for their teams.
Heading into Thursday night’s slate of NHL activity, the Capitals feature the league’s third-best power play with a success rate of 23.7%. Washington’s penalty killing corps stands 24th in the circuit with a kill rate of just 75%. The Caps have been victimized for five power play goals in their last three games and have a kill rate of just 64.3% in those three games.
After an 0-2-1 start to the season, the Hurricanes have collected at least a point in seven of their last nine games (5-2-2). Carolina comes into Thursday night’s NHL action tied for second place in the NHL’s Southeast Division, three points behind front-running Washington. The Caps have two games in hand on the Canes.
The Hurricanes have allowed 32.4 shots on goal per game this season, 26th most in the NHL. The Canes have allowed three goals per game, 24th in NHL.
Eric Staal had three points (two goals and an assist) against the Caps in that Oct. 8 tilt, but has managed just a goal and an assist and is minus-9 in 10 games since.
“Staal is just a very good player,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “Sometimes, when very good players are playing very good – no matter what you do – it’s very difficult to stop them.
“It’s total concentration for the 22 minutes that he is on the ice, whoever is on the ice against them, whether it’s those three or it’s another three. They’ve got the last change, so it’s a lot more difficult to match [lines] 100 percent of the time. So we’ll see how it goes.”
Even without getting much from their captain and best offensive player, the Canes are still 12th in the NHL in goals scored at 2.67 per game.
Sophomore Jeff Skinner, who won the Calder Trophy as the league’s best rookie last season, leads the Canes in scoring as a sophomore. He is followed on the Carolina scoring ledger by Cap-killer Jussi Jokinen, who suffered a knee injury in Tuesday’s 4-2 win over Tampa Bay and will be out of action for Washington’s Friday visit.
The Hurricanes recalled forward Drayson Bowman from AHL Charlotte to replace Jokinen on the active roster.
“Based on play,” says Hurricanes head coach Paul Maurice, when asked why Bowman got the call. “From [Charlotte coach] Jeff Daniels to [Canes director of hockey operations] Ronnie Francis, the games they watched he has played well and he’s a good fit.
“He is scoring at the American League level, but we played him 19-20 games in more of a defensive role last year and he acquitted himself very well. We think he can play both sides, but we’ll start him on the left.”
Anthony Stewart is in line to get some of the minutes usually skated by Jokinen in his absence. Stewart has averaged 7:26 per game this season while Jokinen skated 17:07 per night before he went down.
Maurice was asked on Wednesday whether he thought Stewart could handle the increased workload.
“I think he can,” says Maurice. “I also think we have other players in (Zach) Boychuk, Bowman and (Tim) Brent that we can move in and out on those line to balance out some of those minutes as well.”
Carolina stands 21st on the league’s power play ledger at 14.3% and ranks 18th in the circuit in penalty killing at 81.6%.