Carolina Hurricanes at Washington Capitals
January 2, 2014 - 7:00 pm ET
Verizon Center - Washington, DC
TV - Fox Sports Carolinas
Radio - 99.9 The Fan
SB Nation Rival Blog: Japers' Rink (twitter @JapersRink)
Hurricanes Record: 15-16-9 (39 pts.)
Capitals Record: 20-15-5 (45 pts.)
After a barn-burner finish Tuesday night to close out 2013, the Hurricanes hope to build momentum as they move into a January schedule that could be more favorable than the last few months have been. Out of 18 games leading up to the Olympic break in early February, eleven are against opponents that are not currently in playoff contention, and eleven are at home including the last four games before the break.
What better way to kick off 2014 than against a familiar division foe, the Washington Capitals. The Canes and Capitals wrap up their regular season series at the Verizon Center tonight, and the Canes have been victorious in both previous meetings there: a 3-2 win on October 10th and a 4-1 win on December 3rd. But their most recent matchup took place just two weeks ago here in Raleigh, and the Capitals held the advantage that evening with three power play goals and an empty netter for Alex Ovechkin's 400th NHL career goal as the Capitals won 4-2 on December 20th.
At 45 points, Washington ranks second in the Metro division and seventh in the Eastern Conference. They had previously opened distance between themselves and the teams trailing, but now find themselves only one point ahead of the Flyers. The Canes trail them by six points and in the sixth spot (12th in conference), with several teams to jump to get back into playoff contention. Since the game on the 20th, both teams are 1-2-2. The Capitals last played on Monday night and were defeated 3-1 by the Senators, while the Canes played a game for the ages on New Years Eve with a wild come-from-behind 5-4 overtime win against the Canadiens.
Mortal enemies tonight, Justin Faulk and John Carlson will unite in February as both were selected to Team USA yesterday to participate in the Sochi Olympics.
The Canes will have a new face in the lineup, as defenseman John-Michael Liles joins the team after yesterday's trade that sent Tim Gleason to Toronto. JML took warmups at the Winter Classic but did not play, and left after the game to meet up with his new teammates in DC, and will wait for word after today's practice as to where he might fit in tonight's lineup.
Riley Nash, who left Tuesday's game early with a lower-body injury, is expected to miss seven to ten days and did not travel with the team to DC. His absence leaves the team short a forward which would hint a call-up (unless another trade is in the works) or dressing seven defensemen.
UPDATE 10:00 am: Brett Sutter has been recalled from Charlotte on an emergency basis to cover Nash's absence (link).
Cam Ward also did not make the trip, owing to a lower-body injury that was said not to be related to previous injuries. Anton Khudobin and Justin Peters skated with the team yesterday, Khudobin in the starter's crease, but Kirk Muller has not made an official decision as to who will be in net tonight. Khudobin has two prior games versus the Capitals and is 2-0-0, including the win on October 10th, with a 1.50 GAA. Peters is 4-3-0 with a 1.67 GAA and two shutouts, and was in net for the win on December 3rd.
On hot streaks are Jeff Skinner, who led the league (tied with Chicago's Patrick Sharp) with twelve goals in December including two on Tuesday, and Alexander Semin, who has points in four straight games including Tuesday's game-winner. Andrej Sekera has points in three straight games.
Here's an interesting statistic: in the last five games, the Hurricanes are 5-for-21 on the power play, which is a 23.8% success rate.
Projected line-ups based on yesterday's practice (and the addition of Liles):
Jeff Skinner - Eric Staal - Alexander Semin
Nathan Gerbe - Jordan Staal - Patrick Dwyer
Zach Boychuk - Manny Malhotra - Tuomo Ruutu
Drayson Bowman - Brett Sutter - Radek Dvorak
Andrej Sekera - Justin Faulk
Ron Hainsey - Brett Bellemore
Mike Komiarek - Ryan Murphy
Jiri Tlusty (IR, appendectomy, missed 3 games) and Jay Harrison (IR, concussion, missed 4 games) remain out of the line-up, along with Elias Lindholm who is on loan to Sweden for the World Junior Championships.
Alex Ovechkin is in a slump. Yes, he leads the NHL with 30 goals (and by six over his closest competitor), but that's beside the point. He has gone without points in the last four games straight, putting his 50-in-50 campaign at risk, and with only two goals scored with 85 shots taken in the last two games, it's time to shake up the lines. Head coach Adam Oates did just that yesterday at practice, moving Ovechkin to a line with Eric Fehr and Mikhail Grabovski and moving Troy Brouwer to a line with Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom.
Brooks Laich is reported to be back in tonight's lineup after missing 14 out of the last 15 games with a lingering groin injury. Laich was optimistic about his return but Oates has been more guarded, and if Laich plays he will likely be eased in on the fourth line to start.
Defenseman Jack Hillen continues to recover from a broken tibia, but has begun skating with the team at practice. Forward Michael Latta is also practicing with the team but remains on long-term IR, so he won't return until January 10th at the earliest.
The Caps continue to shuffle goalies as well, with three on the roster. Philipp Grubauer has taken a majority of the recent starts and was in net for the Caps win on December 20th, but Braden Holtby is expected to be back in net tonight although a final decision has not been made. After a stellar start to the season, Holtby was 1-2-1 with a 4.92 GAA and .863 save percentage in December.
Projected lineups from yesterday's practice:
Marcus Johansson - Nicklas Backstrom - Troy Brouwer
Eric Fehr - Mikhail Grabovski - Alex Ovechkin
Jason Chimera - Martin Erat - Joel Ward
Aaron Volpatti - Jay Beagle - Tom Wilson
Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Mike Green
John Erskine - Steve Oleksy
We'll have the game thread ready to roll at 6:30 pm. See you there.