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Carolina Hurricanes vs. Washington Capitals: Game Preview 12-20-13

Welcome back to PNC Arena, Canes fans, where your Carolina Hurricanes make their first appearance in two weeks as they take on the Washington Capitals tonight.

Grant Halverson

Carolina Hurricanes vs Washington Capitals
December 20, 2013 - 7:00 pm ET
PNC Arena - Raleigh, NC
TV - Fox Sports Carolinas
Radio - 99.9 The Fan

SB Nation Rival Blog: Japers' Rink (twitter @JapersRink)

Hurricanes Record: 14-13-7 (35 pts.)
Capitals Record: 18-13-3 (39 pts.)

After a long western conference road trip and a five-day game break, the Carolina Hurricanes return to PNC Arena tonight to take on a familiar foe, the Washington Capitals. The Canes and Caps have met twice so far this season in the nation's capital, with the Hurricanes bringing home wins in both. Elias Lindholm scored his first NHL goal, Nathan Gerbe scored the game-winner, and Anton Khudobin made 30 saves in a 3-2 win on October 10, and Jeff Skinner stole the show with two goals and Justin Peters was perfect through 2-1/2 periods in a 4-1 win on December 3.

The Canes have been off since last Saturday, when they defeated the Coyotes 3-1 in Phoenix to remain in third place in the Metro division. The Capitals have been firmly entrenched in second place in the division, but with a 5-4 shootout win against the Flyers on Sunday, followed by a 5-2 loss to the Flyers on Tuesday, the Flyers have passed the Canes in the division standings.

Hurricanes Notes

The Hurricanes' December schedule is a bit of an anomaly. Seven out of the first eight games were played against the Western Conference, now after the brief schedule break they will play eight games against the Eastern Conference to wrap up the month.

With the five-day break between games, the Canes followed a couple of rest days by keeping busy with three days of uptempo practices, holiday community service days, and the annual Skate with the Canes event for the Kids 'n Community Foundation.

The Canes enter the second half of the month with a healthy roster. 25 players have been practicing this week, leaving many to speculate that GM Jim Rutherford may be busy with trade activity before the holiday roster freeze. However, midnight passed quietly with no changes. Rookie forward Elias Lindholm was officially loaned to Sweden's World Junior Championship team, and defenseman Mike Komisarek and goaltender Anton Khudobin remain on injured reserve, which allows the roster to at least temporarily remain below the 23-player limit.

Khudobin has been given a clean bill of health, but according to head coach Kirk Muller, after missing 28 games he needs more practice time before returning to the nets. The team has considered a conditioning stint in Charlotte, but no decision has been made in that regard, and Khudobin would be required to approve a conditioning assignment.

Brett Bellemore has missed six games with an upper body issue but should be cleared to play and could return tonight.

Muller hasn't declared a starting goaltender. Justin Peters, whose recent stellar net performance has earned him a 2.98 career GAA, is 4-3-0 with a 1.67 GAA and two shutouts against the Capitals. Cam Ward is 16-11-4 with a 2.54 GAA and four shutouts in 32 career games.

Jeff Skinner is on a three-game goal scoring streak and is red hot in December with 8 goals and 10 points in eight games. Eric Staal has 10 points (3g, 7a) in his last eight games.

Projected line-ups based on this week's practices:

Jeff Skinner - Eric Staal - Tuomo Ruutu
Nathan Gerbe - Jordan Staal - Alexander Semin
Jiri Tlusty - Riley Nash - Patrick Dwyer
Drayson Bowman - Manny Malhotra - Radek Dvorak/Kevin Westgarth
Elias Lindholm

Andrej Sekera - Justin Faulk
Jay Harrison - Tim Gleason
Ron Hainsey - Ryan Murphy
Brett Bellemore

Justin Peters
Cam Ward

Capitals Notes

The Capitals' record has to be one of the most unusual in the NHL. Through 34 games they have 8 regulation wins, 13 regulation losses, 2 overtime wins, 8 shootout wins, and 3 shootout losses. They have more extra inning wins than regulation wins, and over a third of their games have required more than 60 minutes to decide.

The Capitals are lethal on the power play, which is ranked second in the league behind Pittsburgh. 12 out of Alexander Ovechkin's league-leading 28 goals have been scored with a man advantage. Ovechkin enters tonight's game in search of his 400th career NHL goal.

In Tuesday's game against the Flyers, rookie forward Tom Wilson was issued a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct for charging Brayden Schenn during the second period. The Department of Player Safety held a hearing with Wilson yesterday but no supplemental discipline was assessed, so he will be eligible to play tonight. Wilson was the guilty party in a hard open ice hit on Brett Bellemore on December 3 than caused his upper body injury (concussion/whiplash symptoms). Bellemore has missed all games since although he could return tonight, making for an interesting side story.

Mikhail Grabovski missed the last two games with illness but practiced yesterday and is expected back tonight. If he is not able to play, forward Casey Wellman was recalled from Hershey Tuesday and could enter the lineup.

Brooks Laich has been practicing with the team this week but he remains on long term IR (groin injury) through at least December 22. Defenseman Jack Hillen (broken tibia) and forward Michael Latta (lower body) remain on injured reserve.

Mike Green broke his goalless streak against the Canes on December 3. Current Caps players without a goal this season include Martin Erat, John Erskine, and Jay Beagle.

With Michal Neuvirth's recent return from injury and a conditioning stint in Hersey, the Capitals are carrying three goaltenders on their roster, and all three made the trip to Raleigh. Head coach Adam Oates has not tipped his hand in terms of tonight's starter.

Projected lineups from yesterday's practice:

Marcus Johansson - Nicklas Backstrom - Alex Ovechkin

Eric Fehr - Mikhail Grabovski - Troy Brouwer

Jason Chimera - Martin Erat - Joel Ward

Aaron Volpatti - Jay Beagle - Tom Wilson

Karl Alzner - John Carlson

Dmitry Orlov - Mike Green

John Erskine - Steve Oleksy
Alexander Urbom

Braden Holtby
Philipp Grubauer
Michal Neuvirth


Hey folks, sorry about all the outages today, the SB Nation network had some major issues they've been trying to recover from.  Thanks for your patience.

If you missed it (updates from today via the twitter):

Cam Ward is in net tonight.

Brett Bellemore will be in the lineup (paired with Hainsey at morning skate).

Ryan Murphy will sit out, Mike Komisarek has been activated from IR (don't believe he's in tonight though unless someone is sick).

For the Caps, Philipp Grubauer is getting the start in net.  Grubauer came into the game on 12/3 after Holtby was pulled at 4-0, and went 9-for-9 down the stretch that night.

Canes are in their black third jerseys tonight.

Bring unwrapped toys or pajamas to any PNC entrance tonight for a chance to win tickets to an upcoming game, and pick up a holiday puck to support the Kids 'n Community at their kiosk outside Section 129. We'll have the game thread ready to roll at 6:30 pm. See you at the rink.