March 6 vs. Carolina Hurricanes at Verizon 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.
Carolina Hurricanes (24-27-14)
Washington Capitals (32-28-5)
Washington’s five-game homestand continues on Tuesday at Verizon Center when the Carolina Hurricanes visit to close out the season’s series between the two Southeast Division rivals.
For the first time in nearly 11 years and for the seventh time in franchise history, the struggling Capitals have been blanked in each of their last two home games. The Caps were on the wrong end of 5-0 and 1-0 whitewashings on Friday against New Jersey and Sunday against Philadelphia, respectively.
The last time the Caps were blanked in consecutive home games was March 13-15, 2001.
Ironically enough, Washington has also been shutout in each of its last two games against Carolina and has scored a total of two goals in the last three games between the teams. Washington suffered 3-0 and 5-0 blankings at Carolina on Jan. 20 and Feb. 20, respectively. Journeyman Justin Peters shutout Washington on just 17 shots in that Feb. 20 visit; Peters has subsequently been returned to AHL Charlotte.
Although the Capitals are 21-10-2 at home this season, they are just 3-4-1 in their last eight home games dating back to the NHL’s All-Star break.
The Capitals played well in Sunday’s loss to the Flyers, but they are getting to the stage of the season where points are the only thing that matters. With 17 games remaining in the season, Washington has fallen five points behind front-running Florida in the race for the Southeast Division crown.
Although the Caps remain within a point of eighth-place Winnipeg, they’re merely one of six teams separated by five points who are within five points of eighth place in the East. If other clubs keep leapfrogging them, it will be that much harder for the Caps to rebound and latch onto a playoff berth.
The last time the Hurricanes were in town, Washington’s 2-1 win put Caps into the top spot in the Southeast Division. Since then, the Capitals’ total of 19 points in 22 games ranks 14th among the 15 Eastern Conference clubs.
For the sixth time this season, the Caps have mustered a total of exactly three goals scored in a span of three games. Washington is 4-14 and has been outscored 52-18 in the 18 games encompassed in those stretches.
Washington averaged 3.27 goals per game in the 22 games in which Bruce Boudreau was behind the bench at the start of this season. Since Dale Hunter took over as the Caps’ coach on Nov. 28, the Caps have averaged just 2.37 goals per game. Washington ranks 13th in the NHL in goals per game, but that figure is somewhat deceiving. If they scored goals at the 2.37 rate at which they’ve scored them since Hunter took over, the Capitals would rank 26th in the NHL in goals per game.
“If you’re not scoring one way,” says Caps left wing Jason Chimera, “you’ve got to create something a different way. You’ve got to go to the net; you’ve got to get some greasy goals. You’ve got to score those so-called ‘plumber’ goals in front of the net, get some rebounds, get more pucks to the net and get those ugly-style goals. That’s the way you score now and that’s the only way we’re going to get them.”
The Caps are 1-2 on the homestand with two games left. They know they need these last two games before they head out to play six of their following seven games on the road.
“We make too many mistakes and it’s killing us,” says Caps right wing Joel Ward. “I find that it’s definitely tough to swallow. We’ve got no choice but to rebound [Tuesday] and you’ve got to win some games here regardless of who you’re playing against. Especially at home, we’ve got to clean up our home ice and take advantage as much as we can.”
The Hurricanes just finished off a six-game homestand that started with a 5-0 spanking of the Capitals on Feb. 20. The Canes picked up a point in five of the six games on the homestand, going 2-1-3.
Carolina comes to town with the fewest number of road wins (seven) of any team in the NHL. The Canes have won just seven times in 29 road games to date (7-14-8).
The Canes open up a five-game road trip here in Washington, and they’ll play 10 of their next dozen games on the road.
“The couple games that we get back home in between make it seem like it’s not a long trip,” says Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller. “So it’s actually a good way. We’ve been at home and now we can focus again on going on the road. We’ve played some good hockey since January on the road. So I am quite confident we can go out and maybe it’s a good time to re-focus and play a road game and play one game at a time.”
Carolina’s last visit to the District resulted in a 2-1 Washington win on Jan. 15. Since then, the Hurricanes have pulled points in six of seven road games (2-1-4).
Despite being left for dead in the eastern Conference playoff chase, the Hurricanes have not gone consecutive games without a point in nearly two months. The Canes are 10-4-7 in their last 21 and went 6-1-4 in 11 February games.
Most recently, the Hurricanes came up on the short end of a 4-3 overtime decision to the Lightning in the homestand closing contest on Saturday night.
“Realistically, we have to have a good record in March,” says Muller.
“It was good to have a day off [Sunday] and recover from the previous game. We were fresh [at practice Monday]. We had a good tempo. I’m glad the guys had a day off; I’m sure they’ll bounce back energized.”
While the struggling Capitals have totaled just 19 points in their last 22 games (8-11-3), the Hurricanes have 27 points in their last 21 contests.
“I think we’ve really got to focus on ourselves right now,” says Muller. “We’re going to get all different opponents. Some of them are on a roll, some of them are inconsistent and some are struggling. [The Capitals] have some good players that can hurt you. When they’re going, they’re playing well.
“I think what we need to do is make sure that we don’t have any surprises to our game. We’ve got to continue to be up ice, we’ve got to be aggressive. That’s when we play our best. We have to be prepared to play that style when we go in. However Washington plays is up to them, but we’ve got to keep our focus on us I think right now.”
Notes: Caps goaltender Tomas Vokoun returned to practice after sitting out the weekend with a lower body injury. Washington returned goaltender Braden Holtby to AHL Hershey.