The last time the Washington Capitals visited Raleigh, the Carolina Hurricanes claimed the first win of what has become a seven-game winning streak on home ice. Tonight, the Caps look to turn the tables while keeping their own run going.
The Caps enter PNC Arena sporting a five-game winning streak and sitting in a playoff spot in the ultra competitive Metropolitan Division. The Caps have scored three or more goals in each of their past five victories, and will be looking for some redemption after the 5-1 beating they took from the Canes just over one month ago.
For the Capitals, offensive punch will always be front and center, with the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson and T.J. Oshie making plays, but solid goaltending has been the catalyst that this team has begun to build upon.
With last season’s phenomenal 120-point season, and the solid start to this season, Braden Holtby has established himself firmly in the upper-crust of NHL netminding. His .925 save percentage and sparkling 2.08 goals against average are prime reasons for the recent success in the nation’s capital.
For the Capitals offensively, the emergence of Johansson is one aspect that is greatly welcomed in D.C. A consistent 40-point producer previously, the now 26 year-old winger is on a pace for close to 70 points, as he currently has 22 points through the first third of the season. Over the past 2-3 seasons, the Capitals rebuilt their blueline: out with the offensively minded - and oft injured - Mike Green, in with the likes of veterans Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen. Add in a bigger role for Karl Alzner and John Carlson, throw in the younger blood of Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt, and the area that once was the Achilles heel of the Caps has become an area of stability.
In fact, in terms of total team defense, the Caps have allowed only 787 shots in their first 28 games, good for second fewest in the league. Add in a top-10 penalty kill, and this team is built more from the defensive end than past iterations of Capitals teams.
With that in mind, it is important for the Hurricanes to take as many opportunities as they can to shot the puck tonight, because the numbers indicate there will not be as many chances tonight. With the Hurricanes hot on both the penalty kill and the power play of late, it will be imperative to win the special teams battle tonight.
The Canes have performed well against the top-notch Capitals teams of last season and this season, having gone 2-2-1 against the Caps since the onset of the 2015-2016 season. Not bad, considering the level of play from Washington over the past 15 months. For the Canes to build on that, they must continue to attack this Caps team, because they are no longer the offensively-minded juggernaut, but rather a balanced and stout defensive team with offensive skill.
What to Watch For
- With this the first of back-to-back games for the Capitals, look to see who is in nets tonight. I would expect Holtby to play, but if not Philipp Grubauer will get the start. His performance in the 5-1 loss at PNC last month was less than stellar.
- Evgeny Kuznetsov has finally emerged after a poor start to the season - which followed a poor postseason. In the recent five-game win streak, Kuznetsov has tallied at least on point in each game and a total of seven overall, all assists.
- The faceoff dot will be crucial in this one. The Hurricanes rank eighth best with a 51.2%, while the Capitals are right behind at tenth best with a 50.9% take. With two solid teams taking draws, whichever team can best control the faceoff may get the slight advantage they need for victory.