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April 11 vs. Carolina Hurricanes at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: Comcast SportsNet
Radio: 1500AM WFED
Carolina Hurricanes (16-21-2)
Washington Capitals (21-17-2)
After playing 12 of its last 18 games on the road in a span of 32 nights, the Capitals open up a three-game homestand against the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night at Verizon Center. The game is the last of five meetings between the Caps and the Canes this season.
The Caps come home on the heels of a 3-2 win over the Canadiens in Montreal on Tuesday night. The win was Washington’s fifth in a row, its longest winning run since a seven-game spree to start the 2011-12 season. The Caps have also collected at least a point in each of their last eight road games, going 7-0-1 during that span.
“We know that we’re playing well,” said Caps defenseman Jack Hillen, after scoring the game-winner against the Habs. “When they score it doesn’t really rattle us, we just keep playing because we know we’ve been doing it for a good stretch here and kept playing well. It’s nice when you can fall back on a system like that and keep playing, just keep doing the things you’re doing and know that you’re going to get opportunities.”
With the Marcus Johansson-Nicklas Backstrom-Alex Ovechkin line on fire for weeks now, Washington has been scoring goals at a steady clip. The Caps have averaged 2.92 tallies per tilt this season, tied for sixth in the NHL with Anaheim. Ovechkin scored the Caps’ first goal on Tuesday in Montreal, scoring in his ninth consecutive road game. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the last NHL player before Ovechkin to score in nine straight road contests was New Jersey’s Alexander Mogilny in 2000-01.
In its last two games, Washington has effectively shut down two of the five teams ahead of it on the goal-scoring ledger this season, Tampa Bay and Montreal. The Lightning ranks third in the NHL and the Canadiens are fifth in average goals per game. With Michal Neuvirth minding the twine on both nights, the Caps permitted a total of three even-strength goals in the two games.
After not seeing any action for three weeks, Neuvirth collected wins in consecutive starts for the first time since March 29-31, 2012.
“It’s very important,” said Caps coach Adam Oates after Tuesday’s game, speaking of the importance of establishing both of his team’s goaltenders heading down the stretch. “We’ve talked all along as a staff that to go a long way, you’re going to need both goalies at some point.
“Neuvy has had some tough luck with his health over the last month. He didn’t get a lot of opportunities to play so getting two in a row and playing two good games is good for us.”
Neuvirth’s consecutive starts ended a run of 11 straight starts in goal for Braden Holtby, who has had two runs of 11 straight starts this season.
Holtby has started 24 of Washington’s last 29 games. During that span, he is 16-7-1 with four shutouts, a 2.32 GAA and a .926 save pct. Whenever Holtby returns to the crease, it will mark the fifth time this season he has returned to the pipes after getting respite of a game or more.
In his previous four starts that immediately followed those rest periods, Holtby went 3-1 with a shutout, a 2.24 GAA and a .925 save pct.
The last time the Caps and Canes clashed in the District was on March 12, and the Hurricanes skated off with a 4-0 shutout win over Washington behind the netminding of Justin Peters in that one. Since then, the Capitals and the Hurricanes have been two ships passing one another while heading in the opposite direction.
The Caps and Canes met again two nights after that March 12 game in Raleigh. Going into that contest, the Caps had dropped three games in a row and were on the verge of falling from the playoff chase. The Hurricanes had won six of seven and they occupied the Southeast Division’s catbird’s seat, 10 points ahead of Washington. The Caps were 14th in the Eastern Conference and just a point ahead of Florida for the bottom spot in the entire NHL. Washington was also seven points out of the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
Carolina came out and grabbed a 2-0 lead in that game, but Washington rebounded and came back to take a 3-2 decision over the Canes. The Capitals’ win that night started a run in which Washington has gone 11-3-1 in its last 15 games.
On the other side of that coin, the Canes’ loss that night sent them off on a 1-12-1 tailspin during which they’ve been outscored by a combined 56-23. Carolina has lost eight straight games on home ice and six straight games overall. Decimated by injuries up and down the lineup, the Canes have gone from 10 points up on the Capitals to 10 points down to the Capitals in a span of just four weeks.
Since that 4-0 shutout win over the Caps in the District, Carolina has not scored more than three goals in any game and they’ve scored as many as three just three times in those 14 games. Carolina has surrendered four or more goals in 10 of its last 11 games, and the Canes are 28th in the NHL with an average of 3.20 goals against per game.
With goaltender Cam Ward sidelined since early March, the Canes have had to rely on the tandem of Dan Ellis and Justin Peters in goal. Since the beginning of March, Ellis is 1-6-1 with a 3.65 GAA and an .889 save pct. Peters is 3-7-0 with a 3.11 GAA and an .899 save pct. over the same span.
The Capitals are 3-1-0 against the Hurricanes this season, but are 3-3-1 in the last seven meetings between the two teams, dating back to last season. Each of those three regulation losses to Carolina during that span has come via the shutout route.