At 9-22-7 and nine points worse than any other team in the NHL, the Carolina Hurricanes don't have much need for measuring sticks. Tonight at Verizon Center, they will get one anyway when they face the Eastern Conference-leading Washington Capitals.
Not only are the Caps the current cream of the crop in the East, but they are among the NHL's best home teams, boasting a 12-2-3 record. The Canes' cellar-dwelling woes can be pinned on their dreadful road record of 1-13-4. The odds, as they say, are not in Carolina's favor.
Still, there is reason for optimism. The Hurricanes have managed a serviceable — for a last place team, anyway — eight points in their past 10 games. The newly formed line of Matt Cullen centering Eric Staal and Jussi Jokinen spurred the team on to a third-period comeback against the Flyers Saturday in an eventual shootout loss. Finally, the Canes have played the Caps tough this season, dropping a 3-2 decision Nov. 30 and 4-3 overtime loss Dec. 11.
With Washington's Semyon Varlamov still nursing a groin injury, Jose Theodore will get the nod in net for Washington.
|2009 - Jose Theodore||20||1081||9||5||53||2.94||535||482||.901||0|
The Canes will likely counter with Cam Ward, who shook off two first-period goals against Philadelphia to help Carolina earn a point. He has started the Hurricanes' past six games.
|2009 - Cam Ward||23||1248||4||13||66||3.17||632||566||.896||0|
Washington is led by Canes-killer Alexander Semin and everyone-killer Alex Ovechkin.
Ovechkin is again near the top of the league in goals with 25, one behind league-leader Marian Gaborik despite playing six fewer games, and his 47 points are good a tie with Sidney Crosby for fourth in the NHL.
Semin's numbers aren't as eye-popping (14 goals, 18 assists), but nearly a fifth of his career goals have come against Carolina (122 career goals, 21 goals in 25 games vs. the Canes), including two goals in the Dec. 11 matchup.
Brandon Sutter has regained his scoring touch playing with Ray Whitney and Tuomo Ruutu, netting a goal in each of the Canes past two games. Staal has been the Canes best point producer vs. Washington this season, registering a goal and two assists in two games, including 13 shots on goal.
Defenseman Tim Gleason has been the most noticeable player in the Canes-Caps season series, taking a knee-on-knee hit from Ovechkin in the first meeting (A.O. was tossed from the game and suspended two more for the hit), and then coming back from a 30-stich gash courtesy a puck off Ovechkin's stick to score the game-tying goal on a shorthanded breakaway slapshot in the second matchup. Here's to hoping No. 6 exhibits a more traditional successful evening tonight.
Game time is 7 p.m. and it will be broadcast on FS Carolinas and 99.9 The Fan.
UPDATE: The Caps will be without captain Chris Clark, who was traded to Columbus —along with Milan Jurcina — for Jason Chimera. Three things: this clears cap space for the Caps; probably means highly touted rearguard Karl Alzner is up for good in D.C.; AO will probably be the captain before long.
For more info on the Caps, check out Japers' Rink.