There's something decidedly different about this third and final meeting of the 2010-11 season here in Carolina between the Washington Capitals and the Carolina Hurricanes. The Caps arrived late this morning, in the midst of our southern snow storm, despite that most eastern airports were shut down for public travel. As the powerhouse of the Southeast Division since Bruce Boudreau was named coach in November 2007, the Capitals (currently at 20-12-5 overall) find themselves in second place to the Tampa Bay Lightning (who have two games in hand) with a record in their last ten games of just 2-5-3. Their roster of late has been mixed and matched with call-ups from the AHL Hershey Bears, as injuries and the flu run rampant through their locker room.
And then there's the pressure of public opinion that goes with the very popular HBO 24/7 series introducing us to the expletive-filled speechifying of Coach Boudreau as his team climbed its way out of an unprecedented eight-game losing streak that finally ended a week ago. Maybe it doesn't matter anymore, but still it's part of the context surrounding tonight's game which should be included in this Wednesday's episode.
Finally, Caps' PR Man Nate Ewell, tweeted the following team record for Boxing Day games, with road wins especially long absent:
Caps are 11-10-3 in Dec. 26 games, but 19 of those have been at home. They are 1-4-0 on the road; Gary Green's '79-80 team had the W.
After the jump, looking at the personnel adjustments Head Coach Paul Maurice is making to his roster in Raleigh, as he looks to avoid a season sweep at home by the Canes' rivals to the north.
Your new Hurricanes line-up
according to tweets from @ice_chip who was at the morning skate:
Center - Left Wing - Right Wing
1st line: Eric Staal - Sergei Samsonov - Erik Cole
2a: Brandon Sutter - Chad LaRose - Patrick Dwyer
2b: Jeff Skinner - Jussi Jokinen - Tuomo Ruutu
4th line: Ryan Carter - Zach Boychuk - Troy Bodie
Yes, Skinner will not start at Staal's wing as he's been for a few weeks; the rookie is moving back to center and down a couple lines to play with the veteran Finn wingers Ruutu and Jokinen on either side. CanesNow just posted Skinner 'comfortable' going back to center, with comments from him and Maurice on the decision. Further, Sutter is now re-united with the defensive-first wings of Dwyer and LaRose. Last, Boychuk remains on the fourth line, while Samsonov is up with Staal and Cole. Jiri Tlusty remains sidelined with an UBI.
That's not all, folks. The defensive pairings are also getting a shake-up, including the splitting of top pair Corvo and Gleason for perhaps the first time since October.
Tim Gleason - Jamie McBain
Joni Pitkanen - Joe Corvo
Jay Harrison - Ian White
With Tim Gleason typically assigned to Ovechkin's line (and Gleason and Ovechkin did have some memorable run-ins last season), that would put rookie McBain covering Ovechkin and veteran power wing Mike Knuble. As Maurice said in the story linked above:
"McBain's another player who has to develop," Maurice said. "I know he's a first-year guy, but we need to put him in some situations where he's playing against better and harder opposition to develop him. Because he's a good offensive player. If he can add more of a defensive component to his game, then we're going to have a really, really good defenseman."
With no reports to the contrary, it seems safe to assume Cam Ward is starting tonight. Justin Peters was the starter the last time these teams played at the RBC Center.
If you're headed to the game, here is your Canes Country's Game Guide: Hurricanes vs Capitals Dec 26 ready to print out with these changes and the latest notes and stats for reference.
Meanwhile, the Caps lines are still in flux as day-to-day illnesses and injuries are evaluated. We do know that both Jeff Schultz and Matt Bradley are out with broken thumbs; Boyd Gordon is also out with a LBI. D.J. King, and Tyler Sloan are nearer to playing, though not expected to dress tonight. The status of forward Matt Hendricks, who was down with the flu last week, is uncertain.
Center - Left Wing - Right Wing
Nicklas Backstrom - Alex Ovechkin - Mike Knuble
Mathieu Perreault - Brooks Laich - Alexander Semin
Marcus Johansson - Jason Chimera - Eric Fehr
David Steckel - Jay Beagle - Andrew Gordon
Scott Hannan - Mike Green
Karl Alzner - John Carlson
John Erskine - Tom Poti
In goal, Michal Neuvirth will likely get the start as he did when he shut out the Hurricanes in Raleigh in October. The backup will be Semyon Varlamov, who started the last two games between the teams, winning the last in a shoot-out November 28th in Washington.
For more on the Caps be sure to check out SBN's blog, Japers' Rink.
Southeast Division standings
(updated 12.26.2010 at 1:13 PM EST)
The big picture of what's at stake tonight is captured in the Division standings above. Further, the Bolts are in Atlanta tonight, with both teams looking to make or solidify their claim at the top of the Southeast.
DVR Alert: WJC
Finally, Team USA opens play at the World Junior Championships tonight in Buffalo when they take on Team Finland. The game will be shown on the NHL Network with an 8pm start. All four of the Hurricanes prospects will be part of this game, so you might want to set your DVR to get a real feel for Americans Justin Faulk and Brian Dumoulin and Finns Tommi Kivisto and Rasmus Rissanen who take the ice with the world's best teenagers in this showcase event.