Pregame #69: Washington Capitals vs. Carolina Hurricanes

Washington Capitals (38-20-10) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (31-26-10)
Verizon Center
7:00 PM
TV: Comcast SportsNet (HD) (Game On!)
Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM
Team Promotion: Pick-A-Stick, Slapshot’s Mascot Hockey Game
Previous Games:
Oct 27, 2010 WSH@CAR 3-0 W
Nov 24, 2010 WSH@CAR 3-2 W
Nov 28, 2010 CAR@WSH 3-2 W
Dec 26, 2010 WSH@CAR 3-2 W
Games Remaining:
Mar 26, 2011 CAR@WSH 7:00 PM ET
Familiar Faces of Former Caps:  Joe Corvo (2010)
The Enemy:  Canes Country

The Southeast Division-leading Washington Capitals will try to continue their season-seris sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes tonight at Verizon Center.  Winners of 6 straight, the Caps enjoyed a rare offensive outburst against the last-place Oilers on Wednesday, winning 5-0.  The Caps’ scored the first goal, scored twice on the powerplay, and were able to take advantage of rookie mistakes from a team trying to get back into the game, which was just what the doctor ordered. If the Caps can continue this trend, they should be in fine shape heading into the playoffs.

Braden Holtby continued to keep his net clean, posting his first career shutout against the Oilers and extending his shutout streak to 116:41.  In calendar year 2011, Holtby is 4-0-1 with a 0.62 Goals Against Average and a .977 Save Percentage.  You can enter our Holtby Moly T-Shirt Challenge here

The 9th-place Hurricanes enter DC struggling to stay in the playoff hunt as the surging Buffalo Sabres have overtaken them.  The Canes have lost their last 2 games and have only won 6 of 17 games since the beginning of February, prompting a series of trades that may ultimately prove futile.  While the Hurricanes are still a talented group and are trying to make the playoffs, they have lost their footing at the worst time.  If the Caps can play a disciplined game, they should be able to keep the Canes from getting their second wind. 

Injury Report:  Capitals defensemen Mike Green (head) and Tom Poti (groin) are on long-term injured reserve. G Semyon Varlamov (knee) is out.  C Nicklas Backstrom (hand) is questionable.
-The Hurricanes are not reporting any injuries.

Johnny and the Hurricanes
The Canes are Getting the Band Back Together!  Read On!

What to watch for:

Staal Tactics:   Canes’ captain and #1 center Eric Staal has been rejuvenated by the re-acquisition of 2006 Stanley Cup teammate LW Cory Stillman at the trade deadline.  Staal had occasionally been spectacular this season (two hat tricks and a 4-assist game), but the addition of Stillman to the Staal-Erik Cole line has added another dimension of experience and creativity.  Since the trade, Staal has 4 points in 5 games and Cole and Stillman each have 5 points in 6 games.  With rookie scoring leader Jeff “Principal” Skinner on the second line, the Canes look to be turning the corner on offense, at least. 

Swede Passes:  If Alex Ovechkin was missing his usual center and good friend, Nicklas Backstrom, it didn’t show on Wednesday.  Rookie center Marcus Johansson moved up to the top line with Ovie and played very well, finishing with 1 assist, 1 hit, 1 shot on goal, 2 takeaways, no giveaways, a +1 defensive rating, and won 4 of 7 faceoffs (57%).  All of this came in a big game for Johansson, as he faced the only Swedish rookie ahead of him in scoring, former teammate Magnus Paajarvi.  While he still needs to work on not telegraphing his passes to the defense, Johansson’s ability to find the open man and execute a perfectly placed and perfectly timed pass is extraordinary, and his willingness to shoot adds an important dimension to his game.   The passing play that led to Ovechkin’s second goal was a thing of beauty, a perfectly executed 2-on-0 that baffled Oilers G Nikolai Khabibulin to put the game out of reach.   If Backstrom misses tonight’s game, look for Johansson to have another strong game on the top line. 

Sturm Warning:  When Eric Fehr made his triumphant return to the lineup on Wendesday with a 2-goal outburst, Marco Sturm suddenly became the player he was most likely to replace in the lineup.  The 13-year veteran responded late in the game with an assist on Alexander Semin‘s goal, his first point as a Capital.  It is well known that the speedy Sturm is recovering from a knee injury, but it still took him 5 games to get on the scoresheet, despite numerous chances and even a game on the top line.  While Sturm’s strengths are his versatility and strong 2-way play, he has more to offer on offense than what he’s shown.  While Marco has been a solid if unspectacular addition to the team so far, look for him to make a statement in tonight’s game to cement his spot in the lineup.