Pregame #11: Washington Capitals at Carolina Hurricanes

Washington Capitals (8-2-0) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (5-4-3)
Location: RBC Center
7:00 PM
TV:  Comcast SportsNet (HD) (Game On!), Fox Sports Carolinas
Radio:  1500AM, 820 AM, and XM
Previous Games:
Oct 8, 2011 CAR@WSH, 4-3 W (OT)
Games Remaining:
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

We won’t sting if you read on, we promise!

The Washington Capitals ended their 2-game losing streak on Tuesday with an exciting, come-from-behind overtime win over the Anaheim Ducks.  The big story in that game wasn’t Teemu Selanne’s 4 points or even Nicklas Backstrom‘s game-tying and game-winning goals, but rather it was the lack of Alex Ovechkin on the ice in the final 3:11 of regulation with the Caps down a goal.  Ovie responded by assisting on the game-winner in overtime and by being one of the first players on ice the next day.  It should be a stark wake-up call to a team that was led with too soft a hand last season:  Coach Boudreau means business.  The Capitals have four lines that can score, an effective powerplay most nights, and several strong offensive defensemen.  Ovie may still be the primary threat most opponents plan to contain, but he’s hardly the only scoring threat on the roster.  This bodes well for the Caps come April, May, and hopefully June.

The Carolina Hurricanes have been treading water through their growing pains so far this season.  In typical fashion, starting goaltender Cam Ward has been very strong, with a 5-2-1 record, a shutout, and good stats (.929 sv%, 2.30 GAA), but his backup Brian Boucher has been horrid.  The Hurricanes have been decent offensively, but their big gun, Eric Staal, had 3 points against the Caps in early October, but has just 2 points since and is a team worst -12.  The big free agent defenseman signing, Tomas Kaberle, has been mostly silent (12 GP, 2 assists, -3 rating).  If anything, it has been the young players carrying the load.  This is a team with serious talent, but they’re waiting to put it all together. 

Injury Report:   Capitals’ D Mike Green (ankle) is day-to-day.  RW Jay Beagle (head) is out.  Update: RW Troy Brouwer (shoulder) is questionable.
-Hurricanes’ F Jussi Jokinen (leg) is out.

Three Things To Watch For:

Third Line’s The Charm:  The major reason for Ovie sitting on the bench on Tuesday was the play of the third line.  The combo of Brooks LaichJason ChimeraJoel Ward had already produced 2 goals before setting up Backstrom’s game-tying marker.  This line can do it all, keep a top line in check, play physically, kill penalties, and they can score.  Laich (7 points), Chimera (7 points) and Ward (6 points) have been providing those goals the team lacked last season, when the difference in a close game was that secondary offense.  Look for this line to be a major factor in containing the ‘Canes’ top line tonight. 

Kid Icarus:  Teenaged Hurricane RW Jeff Skinner has been flying high these days, parking himself among the league leaders in points with 6 goals and 12 points in 12 games this season.  Skinner opened the season with a goal against Tampa and then, of course, 3 assists against the Capitals, and he hasn’t slowed down.  The former figure skater has been the key to Carolina’s offense, scoring highlight-reel goals in traffic in front of the net and making veteran plays on special teams.  Last season’s rookie of the year, Skinner also played in the NHL All-Star game as the youngest player in the league (18), and not just because it was held in Raleigh.  There’s no reason to think we won’t see Skinner at this season’s All-Star game, too. 

Sasha, Sasha, Sasha:  Nothing cures an Alexander Semin slump like a game against the ‘Canes.  With no points in his past 3 games and just 1 assist in his past 5 (along with a -4 rating and 8 PIM), Syoma has been a non-factor in the offense.  We can expect that to change tonight, as Semin’s career numbers against the Hurricanes are staggering.  He has scored 26 goals, 17 assists, and 43 points in 36 career games against the ‘Canes, the most against any opponent and mostly against Cam Ward.  Predictably, Semin scored against Carolina in the season opener in October, but he also has 12 multi-point games against them in his career, including a 4-point game, a 5-point game, and a hat trick.