The Washington Capitals, (15-5-6) are in town to take on the Carolina Hurricanes, (5-16-5) in a game between Southeast Division rivals. Many thought these two teams might be battling each other for the division crown. Instead, the Caps are running away with things. Not only do they lead the division with 36 points, they are tied for first place in the Eastern Conference as well, while the Canes are wallowing in last place with 15 points.
The Canes are coming off two consecutive, disastrous third period meltdowns where they allowed 5 goals to both Buffalo and Atlanta. They have lost four games in a row, but have a 5-6-2 record at home. The Caps have won two games in a row and have a 7-3-3 record away from the Verizon Center.
Cam Ward is still out but has been working with goalie coach, Tom Barrasso. He is eligible to return to the lineup on December 5 and could be in action against Vancouver. Chad LaRose is still out with a lower body concern. He took a nasty spill into the boards a few games ago and is still bothered by the injury.
Scott Walker and Joni Pitkanen were on the ice at the morning skate. Bryan Rodney was reassigned to Albany, so Pitkanen will definitely be on the blueline against the Caps, but Walker is doubtful.
After getting the nod in Buffalo, Michael Leighton will get the start again tonight. Leighton had played well up until the last period against the Sabres. Although, there does not seem to be much difference in his game versus Manny Legace's at this point.
This weekend when (or if) Ward comes back, the team will have to make a decision which goalie to keep as a backup. This game could be vitally important to Michael Leighton's future.
The Hurricanes are still led by Ray Whitney, Jussi Jokinen, and Tuomo Ruutu, although Matt Cullen is hot at the moment and has a three game point streak.
|2009 - Ray Whitney||24||6||9||15||-8||6||1||0||0||0||46||13.0|
|2009 - Jussi Jokinen||26||6||9||15||-3||12||1||0||2||0||45||13.3|
|2009 - Tuomo Ruutu||22||6||9||15||-2||23||2||0||0||0||56||10.7|
Of course, the Caps are led by league MVP Alex Ovechkin. But there is plenty of other talent to help him out on the scoresheet.
|2009 - Alex Ovechkin||20||18||11||29||12||29||4||0||3||0||112||16.1|
|2009 - Mike Green||25||3||22||25||6||18||1||0||0||0||74||4.1|
|2009 - Nicklas Backstrom||26||4||20||24||3||10||2||0||0||0||61||6.6|
|2009 - Alexander Semin||18||9||8||17||1||16||3||0||1||0||67||13.4|
The Caps had been missing goalie Jose Theodore, who took time off for personal reasons. But he is expected to start tonight. For more information about the Caps, check out one of the best hockey blogs on the net, Japers' Rink.
Paul Branecky had an update this morning on Carolina's lines:
The defensive pairings could be mixed again.
There are a lot of rumors out there about the team, some believable, some not. The Fourth Period is reporting that the Canes are trying to move players without any success. (Aaron Ward, Joe Corvo, and Niclas Wallin) Spector talks more about that here. Eklund has a couple of absurd and ridiculous rumors not worth repeating. And Ray Ferraro can't figure out what's wrong with the Canes and Rod Brind'Amour at this TSN link. (Welcome to the club, Ray!)
Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford has given his coach, Paul Maurice, a vote of confidence, regardless of this year's record.
"I stand firmly behind him," Rutherford said. "We all have contributed to what's happened. It's everybody, from me to the coaches to the players. We all share in the responsibility."
Standing behind him and out of the line of fire, might be a perfect spot for the GM to be standing. Some fans are less than thrilled with the team's performance year to date, which is very reminiscent of 2002-03 when Maurice led the Canes to a last place finish in the NHL as well as last in scoring, and they are looking for someone to take the fall. It will be interesting to see how long the GM will be loyal to his coach if ticket sales decrease substantially from an already disappointing start.
This game will be telecast locally in HD by FS Carolinas starting at 7. Also, Chuck will be on 99.9 The Fan. The Aftermath has been interesting with Mike Maniscalco after the game and is worth checking out if you have the time.