Pregame #1: Washington Capitals vs. Carolina Hurricanes

Washington Capitals vs. Carolina Hurricanes
Location: Verizon Center
7:00 PM
TV:  Comcast SportsNet (HD) (Game On!), Fox Sports Carolinas
Radio:  1500AM, 820 AM, and XM
Games Remaining:
Nov  4, 2011 WSH@CAR, 7:00 PM
Jan 15, 2012 CAR@WSH, 5:00 PM
Jan 20, 2012 WSH@CAR, 7:00 PM
Feb 20, 2012 WSH@CAR, 7:30 PM
Mar  6, 2012 CAR@WSH, 7:00 PM
Opposing Viewpoints:
Our Bloguin Partner Shutdown Line
Canes Country

It’s Time For Another Banner Season! Read On!

The Southeast Division Champion Washington Capitals open the 2011-12 season after a longer-than-expected offseason.  General Manager George McPhee made several changes to the roster and coaching staff during the off-season, so pay attention to Joe Beninati and Craig Laughlin’s TV broadcast, or if you prefer, new radio play-by-play man John Walton’s broadcast on 1500AM, to attach names to faces on the ice. If you’d like to do your homework early, check out our updated Roster page and the new stat-packed Rock the Red player pages for RW Troy Brouwer, RW Joel Ward, D Roman Hamrlik, and C Jeff Halpern now.  And while playoff starter Michal Neuvirth will start the opener, the Caps also have a new face in net:  2-time NHL All-Star Tomas Vokoun.  On the coaching side, the Caps brought back goalie coach Dave Prior after Arturs Irbe returned to Latvia and hired legendary Caps goalie Olaf Kolzig as associate goalie coach to work with the prospects.  With all of the turnover and high expectations, the excitement is tangible for the Caps as they open what should be an exceptional hockey season in America’s Hockey Capital. 

The Carolina Hurricanes open their season Friday night at home against the Tampa Bay Lightning before traveling to DC.  The Hurricanes also have a few new faces on the roster, including top-notch offensive defenseman Tomas Kaberle and backup goalie Brian Boucher, along with several players from the Canes farm system making their debut as full-time NHLers.  The major subtraction from the Canes lineup from last season is the speedy Cap-killing cannonball LW Erik Cole, who signed a contract in Montreal for the upcoming season.  The Canes hope free agent pickup RW Anthony Stewart will replace Cole’s to-6 production and physical presence, but time will tell if he can improve upon his 39-point performance from last season.  The Hurricanes should be a faster and more creative team this season, but should struggle with defense while they break in all of their new players.  Goalie Cam Ward is still a rock in net and should keep the Hurricanes competitive as they iron out the kinks. 

Injury/Leave Report:   Capitals’ LW Alex Ovechkin flew to Russia to mourn the loss of his uncle but is expected to be in the lineup.  D John Erskine (shoulder surgery) is out.  D Tom Poti (groin) is on long-term injured reserve and might not play at all this season. 
-Hurricanes’ RW Chad LaRose (lower body) and LW Patrick Dwyer (illness) are questionable.

Three Things To Watch For:

Chemistry Set:  Much like the main character in Breaking Bad, Coach Bruce Boudreau will put his chemistry skills to the test when the new-look Caps face off for their first meaningful game of the season.  Besides the gaggle of new players, there are also several new line combos and defense pairings to figure out.  Even with the players who spent last season in DC, many of them were not in the line-up at the same time.  Jay Beagle spent half the season in the minors, D.J. King was a healthy scratch for all but 16 games, and Dennis Wideman only played 14 games after the trade due to injury.  If training camp surprise Mathieu Perreault centers the second line tonight, if Ovi doesn’t play, or if Brooks Laich skates at center, that ups the ante on Boudreau’s line shuffling. The Caps seemed to find a rhythm in their last 2 preseason games, but it could still take a few games until the lines shake out to start firing on all cylinders. 

Cash Kab:  Quick, can you name the two teams Tomas Kaberle played for last season before signing a $12.75 million dollar contract in Carolina?   The 33-year old defender quarterbacked the Toronto Maple Leafs power play for the better part of a decade before a move to the Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins at last season’s trade deadline.  Over half of Kaberle’s career production has come on special teams, with 235 assists and 266 points on the powerplay since entering the league in 1998-99, including a league-leading 45 power play assists in 2005-06.  Kaberle was brought in to boost the 24th-ranked powerplay from last season, so look for a surge in creativity from the points with the short stick-wielding lefty Kaberle on one side and either minute-munching lefty Joni Pitkanen or 23-year old righty Jamie McBain on the other. 

Homecoming Parade:  Home-grown forward Jeff Halpern makes his return to the Washington Capitals tonight.  The Potomac, Maryland-native spent the first six seasons of his NHL career here in DC, including the wearing the Captain’s “C” in 2005-06.  After spending the past five seasons split among Dallas, Tampa Bay, Los Angeles, and Montreal, the 35-year old center will anchor his hometown team’s fourth line for at least one more season.  The Princeton grad was brought back to D.C. for his leadership, work ethic, and character, but it doesn’t hurt that he wins a lot of faceoffs and can put up good scoring numbers in an energy role.  Look for Halpern to have an immediate impact down low in the opposing team’s end.