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March 14 vs. Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena
Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: Comcast SportsNet
Radio: 106.7 The Fan and Caps Radio Network
Washington Capitals (10-14-1)
Carolina Hurricanes (15-9-1)
Two days after absorbing a 4-0 shutout defeat at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes at Verizon Center, the Caps are back in action against the same opponent. The Capitals make the first of their two visits to Raleigh to take on the Hurricanes on Thursday. Washington will be looking to avoid a fourth straight loss, which would be its longest skid of the season.
“We don’t want to go four in a row without a win,” says Caps defenseman Karl Alzner. “That’s not only a terrible feeling, it’s not something that’s going to help us at all. Just looking at it, we’ve got to have a pretty amazing record the next 23 [games] to give ourselves a chance. We can’t look too far ahead, but we do have to know that this next game is not only huge for points but huge for morale, and that’s what this team needs right now.”
Tuesday’s loss dropped the Caps 10 points behind Carolina in the chase for the top spot in the Southeast Division crown; the Caps remain seven points behind the eighth-place New York Rangers for the final Eastern Conference playoff berth.
Washington started a stretch of 17 games in 30 nights with a 5-2 loss to the Islanders in New York on Saturday, and it has followed with two more losses by multiple goals. The Caps fell 4-1 to the Rangers on Sunday and lost to Carolina on Tuesday.
Thursday’s game in Raleigh starts a crucial stretch for the Capitals. Washington is just 3-7-1 on the road this season, but it must now play six of its next seven games in hostile road environments.
Having watched his team score just one goal in its last six-plus periods of hockey, Caps coach Adam Oates juggled his line combinations at Wednesday’s practice session. Longtime linemates Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin were reunited for the first time since the first few games of the season, with Matt Hendricks skating on the left side.
Oates reunited another trio of forwards that hasn’t skated together since early in the campaign, putting center Mike Ribeiro between left wing Jason Chimera and right wing Joel Ward. That trio was one of the Caps’ most effective units in terms of scoring during its 0-3 start to the campaign.
“Just trying to find a little chemistry,” says Oates of the alterations. “Sometimes you get a little flat and you’re looking for a spark. Throw a different wrinkle at them tomorrow night and how they might cover us.
“I know Ribs played with Wardo and Chimmer and had some good games earlier [in the season], so we’re just trying to find something. And Marcus is back and playing better, so we’re trying to put him in a spot where he is going to get minutes.”
After missing a month of action because of an upper body injury that had been plaguing him during the early weeks of the season, Johansson has returned to the lineup and has provided some speed in the last two games.
“He skated good [Tuesday] night,” says Oates of Johansson. “Because of that, he drove the net. Ovi and him had two nice plays. He had four ‘in alones.’ He had two breakaways, one in the second and one in the third, and he had three other grade A chances. You’ve got to be doing something right to get the chances, and he’s only had a couple of games back.”
Michal Neuvirth is scheduled to get the Thursday start for the Capitals in Raleigh. Braden Holtby has had the net for 13 of Washington’s last 14 games, but Neuvirth has missed a pair of scheduled starts during that span because of illness.
Neuvirth came on in relief of Holtby in the second period of Sunday’s loss to the Rangers. Neuvirth stopped 10 of the 11 shots he faced in that game, but hasn’t started a game since Feb. 7 in Pittsburgh. The last time Neuvirth started and finished a game was on Feb. 5 against Toronto at Verizon Center.
During the course of his NHL career, Neuvirth has had some success against the Hurricanes. He is 3-1-1 lifetime with a shutout, a 2.66 GAA and a .913 save pct. in six appearances (five starts) against Carolina. Neuvirth notched the first shutout of his NHL career against the Canes in Raleigh with a 27-save effort on Oct. 27, 2010.
In three career road appearances (two starts) against the Canes, Neuvirth is 2-0 with a 1.37 GAA and a .954 save pct.
The Hurricanes are as hot as they’ve been in almost two years. Carolina’s win over Washington on Tuesday in the District was its sixth in its last seven games. The last time the Canes won six of seven was from March 18-April 2, 2011.
The Hurricanes have been laying waste to their opponents despite a power play that has been relatively dormant (2-for-24, 8.3%) over the team’s last seven games.
The Hurricanes have been beasts at even strength of late. In their last 21 periods of hockey, the Canes have outscored opponents by a combined total of 26-11 at even strength.
In Tuesday’s whitewash of Washington, Carolina goaltender Justin Peters ran his shutout string against the Capitals to 127 minutes and 53 seconds, dating back to a Nov. 24, 2010 game in Raleigh when Brooks Laich’s third-period goal broke a 2-2 tie and enabled the Caps to get out of town with a 3-2 win. Lifetime against Washington, Peters is 3-1 with a pair of shutouts, a 1.49 GAA and a .945 save pct.
Against the Caps on Tuesday, Canes rookie Riley Nash became the second NHL rookie to score two goals in a road game this season, following Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau who turned the trick last month in Philadelphia. Nash, an Edmonton first-rounder (21st overall) from the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, has three goals and six points in 11 games with Carolina this season.