February 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 at 2 p.m., Two-Man Advantage at 5:00 p.m., John Walton’s one-on-one audio with Dale Hunter at 5:00 p.m., all on washingtoncaps.com.
Washington Capitals (29-24-5)
Carolina Hurricanes (22-26-11)
The Capitals start the back half of a crucial four-game road trip on Monday against the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh. Washington has split the first two games of the tour, taking a 2-1 decision over the Panthers in Florida on Friday before falling to the Lightning in Tampa by the same score on Saturday.
Washington fell behind in the third minute of play on Saturday in Tampa Bay, and was never able to rally to take the lead. In doing so, the Capitals wasted another strong goaltending performance by Tomas Vokoun. Turnovers led to each of the Tampa Bay goals, and the Caps were charged with a dozen giveaways to the Lightning’s four in the game.
The Lightning prey on turnovers in the neutral zone, and the Caps helped feed their attack.
“That’s what we talked about before the game,” lamented Vokoun afterwards. “This is the kind of team, that’s how they want to play. This is the kind of game they want to play. And for some reason, we played the game we didn’t want to play against them. We wanted to make it tough on them.
“It didn’t help that we turned the puck over. Then you’re losing 1-0 and you’ve got to play a little bit differently. We’ve got to play tighter. They’re not the kind of team who is going to cycle and beat you at the cycle and hard work. They’re really skilled and obviously they can hurt you on odd-man rushes. We talked about it but we just didn’t execute the game plan.
“We played the game to the strength of the other team. And we got beat.”
Brooks Laich’s goal at 9:31 of the second period drew the Capitals within one, but Washington wasn’t able to get another shot on journeyman Lightning netminder Mathieu Garon for more than 16 minutes after the Laich goal.
“We went offsides way too many times,” says Caps defenseman Karl Alzner. “I think we want to score all those goals that you see from this team a lot, we try to make those plays and we always make them at the blueline. We’re trying to manufacture so much offense that the [defensemen] are jumping in and that’s when you get those rushes against. We shoot ourselves in the foot when we do that because we’re trying to get something going offensively, but we turn it over.”
Although he has given up more than two goals once in his last six starts and has not allowed more than three in any of those half-dozen games, Vokoun has had little in the way of offensive support and is 3-2-1 in those games as a result.
Since the All-Star break, Vokoun has a 1.69 GAA and a .941 save pct. in seven starts. But he has won just three of the seven (3-2-2), the ones in which he allowed either one or zero goals.
The Caps are in the midst of what could be a season-defining stretch of hockey, a stretch in which they play six games in nine nights leading up to the NHL’s Feb. 27 trade deadlines. After the back-to-back set in Florida, the Caps had a day off on Sunday in Raleigh before Monday’s meeting with the Hurricanes.
“I think every team goes through a stretch where they have a lot of games,” says Caps forward Troy Brouwer. “For us, we’ve got to make sure we’re doing the right things, eating the right things, putting the right things in our body and trying to recover the best we can. We have a huge game in Carolina and looking past that as well we have a very important game up in Ottawa. We’ve got to take care of ourselves and be excited about Carolina.”
The Hurricanes are opening up a season-long six-game homestand with Washington’s Monday visit to RBC Center. Carolina has been hot at home lately, going 10-3-1 in their last 14 games in Raleigh. Included in that stretch was the Capitals’ last visit here, a 3-0 whitewashing at the hands of goaltender Cam Ward on Jan. 20.
Carolina comes into Monday night’s game on a bit of a hot streak overall as well. The Hurricanes have pulled at least a point out of six of their last seven games (4-1-2) with the lone exception being Saturday night’s loss to the New York Islanders on Long Island. The Canes Ward in Saturday’s 4-3 loss to the Islanders; he left the game in the second period with a lower body injury.
“You’ve got to find ways to win this time of year,” said Canes head coach Kirk Muller after Saturday’s loss. “It’s a battle. We gave up that quick goal at the start of the third but we fought back and came up short.”
Justin Peters, who started and won a 3-2 home ice decision on Friday night, came on in relief of Ward in Saturday’s game with the score even at 3-3. Just 38 seconds into the third, he surrendered what would prove to be the game winner, a rebound goal to the Islanders’ John Tavares.
Ward is day-to-day, and his status for Monday’s game against the Capitals is unknown.
“He’s been playing so well,” says Muller of Ward. “His game has really elevated in the last three weeks. It’s not a secret that there are a lot of good things in our game right now, but he’s a big part of that. He has really played well. It’s an opportunity for Peters if that is the case. He had the win [Friday] night. He came in at a tough time as far as jumping into the third period of a close game. Other than that goal, I thought he played well.”
In seven starts since the All-Star break, Ward is 3-1-2 with a 2.51 GAA and a .922 save pct. He is 15-10-4 with a 2.52 GAA and four shutouts lifetime against the Capitals.