January 20 vs. Carolina Hurricanes at RBC Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 1500AM, 820AM, XM and Caps Radio Network Pre-Game: Pre-Cap Podcast at 2 p.m., Two-Man Advantage at 3 p.m., John Walton’s one-on-one audio with Dale Hunter at 3 p.m., all on washingtoncaps.com.
Washington Capitals (25-18-2)
Carolina Hurricanes (16-24-8)
Just five days after they eked out a 2-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes at Verizon Center, the Capitals face the Canes again in Raleigh in the middle match of a three-game road trip. The Caps’ previous visit to Carolina this season came on Nov. 4 and it resulted in a 5-1 Washington win.
The Caps opened the road trip on a good note Wednesday in Montreal. Making his first start in 23 days, goaltender Michal Neuvirth turned aside all 31 shots he faced to lead the Capitals to a 3-0 victory over the Canadiens.
“We wanted to bounce back,” said Caps center Brooks Laich after the Caps returned to the win column on Wednesday, a night after a lackluster effort resulted in a 3-0 loss to the Islanders on home ice. “We were disappointed with our effort [on Tuesday against the Islanders]. [Montreal] is a team that was chasing us in the standings. We wanted to bounce back and get a win. I thought we played a good game and we got great goaltending.”
After holding a lead for a combined total of just over 45 minutes in their previous 13 road games, Washington jumped out in front in the fifth minute of play on a Mathieu Perreault goal. That turned out to be all the offense the Capitals needed, and Neuvirth made certain of that with his sixth career shutout and second of the season.
Five of Neuvirth’s six lifetime whitewashes have come on the road.
Playing in his first-ever game in his native Quebec and performing in front of a host of friends and family, Perreault scored on his first shift and first shot of the game, and the Caps were able to enjoy the rare luxury of a lead on the road.
“I think anytime we get ahead we benefit from it,” says Caps forward Matt Hendricks. “We’ve been successful throughout the season on that. But our road game hasn’t been very good lately. I think we had a few early in the year where we were playing well, but for the most part our road game hasn’t been very good.
“To get the lead and feel a little bit more comfortable in Montreal where it’s a tough building and a tough place to play, we definitely did benefit.”
Washington’s maligned road special teams units also starred in Wednesday’s win over the Habs. The Caps killed off all seven Montreal power play chances – including four in the third period – and Caps captain Alex Ovechkin added a key power play strike to pad the Washington lead to 3-0 midway through the game’s middle frame.
Each of Neuvirth’s two shutouts this season came after a layoff of at least three starts. Before his Wednesday win over the Habs, Tomas Vokoun had started 10 straight games for Washington. Although two of Neuvirth’s six wins this season came at Carolina’s expense, it’s extremely likely that Vokoun will be back in goal for the Caps on Friday in Carolina.
Beginning with a relief effort in a Dec. 26 game at Buffalo, Vokoun is 7-3 in his last 11 appearances (10 starts). He has a 2.01 GAA and a .936 save pct. during that span.
Vokoun has excelled at giving the Caps a chance to win, as he did on Sunday against Carolina at Verizon Center. The Canes poured 82 shots toward the Washington net, getting 44 on goal. Vokoun stopped 43 of them to earn his 19th win of the season.
The Caps answered with only 38 shot attempts of their own against Carolina on Sunday. In Vokoun’s 11 losses this season, the Capitals have scored a grand total of 14 goals. Washington has supported Vokoun with one or zero goals in eight of those 11 setbacks this season.
Since their 2-1 loss to the Caps in Washington on Sunday, the Canes have played once. They dropped a 2-1 shootout decision to the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
With 40 points, the Hurricanes are occupying the basement of the Southeast Division standings, and they’re tied for the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. Carolina has played three more games than both Washington and Florida – the current Southeast leaders – and the Canes have also played more games than fellow Eastern cellar occupants the New York Islanders (four more) and Tampa Bay (three more).
“The last five, 10 games I think there are a lot of good things,” says Canes coach Kirk Muller. “We just want to keep building on the areas where we can get better; minimizing the scoring chances against and being efficient in where we place the puck and what we do with the puck. I think we’ve done a good job of that, and a much better job in the neutral zone with less turnovers. It’s given us a better chance to forecheck and create stuff. I think the Boston game was a really good example of a combination of it all.
“The Boston game” to which Muller refers is Carolina’s most recent victory, a 4-2 home ice triumph over the Bruins on Saturday. The Hurricanes reeled off three unanswered goals late in the third period against the defending Stanley Cup champs to erase a 2-1 deficit.
Carolina is 2-8-2 against Southeast Division foes thus far this season.
Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward is 14-10-4 lifetime against the Capitals. He has three shutouts, a 2.61 GAA and a .919 save pct. in 29 career appearances (28 starts) against Washington.