Hurricanes Record: 10-12-5 (25 pts.)
Capitals Record: 14-11-2 (30 pts.)
Tonight marks the second of five games this season and the second of three at Verizon Center between the Canes and the Capitals. The Hurricanes won the first matchup by a 3-2 margin on October 10th. In that game rookie Elias Lindholm (who celebrated his 19th birthday yesterday) notched his first career NHL goal, Alexander Semin added a power play goal, and Nathan Gerbe scored the game winner.
The Hurricanes' fate was not so kind as they lost both weekend home games in regulation to the New Jersey Devils Friday (5-2) and the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday (3-2). Tonight's game is the start of a two-game road trip; the Canes will then travel from DC to Nashville to take on the Predators, and wrap up the week at home against the San Jose Sharks on Friday. Next week the Canes will leave on a four-game road trip swing through the Western Conference, so establishing road game success will be critical over the next two weeks in order to stay anywhere near the playoff race.
Carolina remains in the sixth spot in the Metro Division, only three points out of third place but with three teams to jump to get there. Fortunately for the Canes, all three teams (Rangers, Devils, Flyers) lost in regulation last night, so the gap didn't widen overnight.
The Canes continue to look for solutions to generate offense to boost their anemic scoring, both 5-on-5 and on the power play which is currently ranked a woeful 27th in the NHL. Head coach Kirk Muller shifted the forward lines in yesterday's practice, moving Jeff Skinner to a line with Eric Staal and Tuomo Ruutu, and moving Nathan Gerbe to a line with Riley Nash and Elias Lindholm.
Alex Semin remains on injured reserve with a concussion, has not practiced since Friday, and did not travel with the team on the road trip to face his former team.
On defense, the Canes hope to get a lift with the return of Andrej Sekera, who missed two games with an upper body injury but practiced yesterday and should return tonight. Sekera is second on the team in points (13) behind Eric Staal and second in TOI/game (22:58) behind Justin Faulk.
Tim Gleason has been out with a lower body injury and has not practiced, but is traveling with the team this week.
Cam Ward will get the start tonight with Justin Peters backing up in net. UPDATE 12:20 PM: Per Chip Alexander via twitter, Justin Peters is getting the start tonight. Anton Khudobin, who was in net for the earlier season win against the Caps, continues to practice and traveled with the team on the road trip, but he has not completed a full team practice and is still listed as day-to-day.
The team will not practice today in Washington.
Projected line-ups based on yesterday's practice:
Canes start their road trip at a critical point in their season. [N&O]
Manny Malhotra takes you inside a faceoff. [CH.com]
Alex Ovechkin (of course) is the scoring leader for the Caps with a league-leading 21 goals in 25 games (29 points). He is followed by Nicklas Backstrom with 19 assists (25 points), and Mikhail Grabovski with 22 points (8 goals, 14 assists). All three players have more points than Canes' points leader Eric Staal with 19.
There's no question Ovechkin is the face of the Capitals franchise, but goaltender Braden Holtby is rising in importance as the season progresses. Holtby is shouldering a heavy workload in net, starting 22 of 27 games so far this season, and won't likely get a rest in the short term with backup Michal Neuvirth on injured reserve. He backstops a team that has allowed the second most shots per game in the NHL (35.1), and faced over 30 shots in 10 games through the month of November. So is Holtby as important to the Caps' success as Ovi? Ted Starkey ponders the question for SBNation NHL.
The Capitals' 30 points are good enough for second place in the Metro division, but despite their success, all is not happy in the nation's capital, as consistency has not been the team's strong point through the first quarter of the season. Dare they be called... enigmatic? [Washington Post]
Both Martin Erat and Dmitry Orlov have been vocal with their displeasure in the way they've been used (or not) throughout the season, and Adam Oates has the challenge of handling "unhappy campers." [CSN Washington]
The World Junior Championships will be held in Sweden over the holidays, but rookie eligible Tom Wilson won't be in the line-up, as GM George McPhee has determined that Wilson is too valuable to loan to Team Canada. [WaPo]
Brooks Laich continues to miss games with a lingering groin injury that kept him out of the lineup and eventually required surgery last season.
Practice Notes and projected lines based on yesterday's practice [WaPo]:
We'll have the game thread ready to roll at 6:30 pm. See you there.