Carolina Hurricanes at Washington Capitals
February 26, 2013 - 7:00 pm EST
Verizon Center - Washington, DC
TV - Fox Sports South | Radio - 99.9 The Fan
Hurricanes Record: 9-7-1, 19 pts. (1st SE Division, 3rd Eastern Conference)
Capitals Record: 6-10-1, 13 pts. (5th SE Division, 14th Eastern Conference)
Tonight is the first of five meetings of the season between these division rivals. The two teams split their records evenly last season, with the Capitals winning the first three of six, and the Hurricanes winning the last three. The Capitals are coming off a solid 5-1 home win on Saturday against the New Jersey Devils with a hat trick and four-point performance from captain Alexander Ovechkin. The Hurricanes finished off the New York Islanders in Long Island Sunday night with a 4-2 come-from-behind victory thanks to Bobby Sanguinetti's first NHL goal which would prove to be the game winner.
Tonight's big story is, of course, the return of Alexander Semin to face the team that drafted him and for whom he played the first seven years of his NHL career. Semin's 197 goals rank him fifth best in the Capitals franchise history. Semin and the Capitals parted ways in free agency last summer, and the Hurricanes signed him to a one-year deal on July 26, 2012. In 17 games this season, in addition to impressing Canes fans with jaw-dropping skills on the ice, Semin has 14 points (4 goals, 10 assists), is a +10 in plus/minus, plays in all situations and on all sides of the ice, and leads all Canes forwards in time on ice. Perhaps just as important is the fact that his line mate, captain Eric Staal, is off to one of his best starts in his career. Here's what Hurricanes head coach Kirk Muller had to say about Semin as he addressed a charity event I attended on Saturday (when asked what the coach had seen from Semin since he arrived here):
"Well, you can ask Eric Staal. Eric is obviously benefitting playing with Alex. Look at Eric's stats this year, his plus/minus, his production, all that, and the big reason is he's playing with an internationally elite player. Alex plays the game differently. He's arguably our smartest guy at reading the game. He doesn't do systematic things 100% of the time, because he has a different vision of the game. I think he's one of our best playmakers. The other thing we're learning about him is he's probably more excited and has more of an appreciation for making a play or setting a guy up for a goal as he does scoring goals. He slows things down, he wants to make the play, and he knows how to read the game in order to make those types of plays. From the coaching staff here, we're extremely happy with him. He's scoring big goals for us, at the right time. And he's getting along great with his teammates. He's been a nice plus for us so far."
All in all, I think we've been doing quite well with him.
The Hurricanes are in the unusual position of being first in the Southeast Division despite having no wins and four losses to date within the division. They have a chance to rectify that situation with three important division match-ups in four games over the next six days.
Injuries continue to plague the line-up with Jeff Skinner (concussion), Tim Brent (groin), Joni Pitkanen (IR, lower body), Tim Gleason (IR, lower body), and Jamie McBain (upper body) joining Tuomo Ruutu (injured non-roster, hip) on the injured list. Quick math tells me that's thirty percent of the roster. Gleason is probably the closest player to returning. He skated with Skinner in Raleigh on Monday, but it is not known whether or not he will travel to DC for the game. If he is in the line-up, Ryan Murphy will be returned to his OHL assignment in Kitchener.
Yesterday the Hurricanes announced that forward Andreas Nodl and defenseman Michal Jordan would return to the Charlotte Checkers, and incoming to the Hurricanes line-up are forward Zac Dalpe and defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani. Tonight will be Gragnani's Hurricanes debut, although he has previously played in 73 NHL games with the Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks. Dalpe has previously played in 6 games this season with the Hurricanes and 37 career to date.
Here's a fun fact: Eleven times this season (out of 17 games) the brothers Staal have earned points in the same game.
Cam Ward is 16-10-4 with a 2.53 GAA and four shutouts in 31 career games against the Capitals. Dan Ellis is 0-2-3 with a 3.45 GAA in six games.
The Hurricanes did not practice Monday so any further updates to the lineup won't be known until after the pre-game skate (11:30 am). We'll pass along any news as it becomes available.
The Capitals made two contract announcements on Monday. Goaltender Braden Holtby was re-signed to a two-year, $3.7 million contract extension, and defenseman John Erskine was re-signed to a two-year, $3.925 million contract extension.
Holtby will get the start in net tonight, his seventh straight. He is 4-2 in the last six games with a shutout, 2.33 GAA, and .926 save percent. Holtby only has one start against the Hurricanes, a 40-save win on March 11, 2011.
Center Nicklas Backstrom did not practice with the team Monday, he arrived at practice not feeling well and was sent to the doctor then sent home. As well, winger Jason Chimera left practice early with a lower-body injury. The status for both players for tonight's game is unknown, and the Capitals will need to make a recall if they are out of the lineup.
Marcus Johansson skated in Backstrom's place yesterday at practice but is out with an upper-body injury and is not ready to return to the line-up. Forward Brooks Laich remains out with a groin injury and is not currently practicing with the team.
Defenseman Mike Green will make his return tonight after missing three games with a groin injury.
Of course, the player to always watch out for is perpetual Canes killer Alexander Sem.... oh wait. Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom (if he's in the line-up tonight) are both point-per-game producers against the Hurricanes, and I am certain they along with others are ready to welcome their former teammate back to the arena by lighting up his new team.
Here's another fun fact, this one courtesy of Brian LeBlanc: Capitals head coach Adam Oates had the game-winning goal in his final career game against the Hurricanes (February 25, 2003 with Anaheim).
Three questions forthcoming later today, and we'll start the game thread at 6:30 pm.
And just one more note, I'll actually be in the building for this one, so look for updates from Verizon Center during and after the game!