The Carolina Hurricanes return to action Saturday night, as they travel to the District of Columbia for a tilt against last year’s Metropolitan Division winners, the Washington Capitals.
Of course, one should expect plenty of reminders of last year’s first-round playoff series. That seven-game series - which finally concluded with a double-overtime thriller - spawned a heated rivalry. Yet, there is something else driving the animosity between these teams.
Since the NHL realignment that created the Metro Division back in 2013, the Washington Capitals have been dominant within it. They’ve finished first in the division in each of the last four years, won the Presidents’ Trophy twice during that span, and have completed the regular season with 100 points or more in each of the past five seasons.
However, it is the Hurricanes - with their young lineup, newfound willingness to spend, and recent playoff success - who were the trendy pick to win the division this year. The aging Capitals - seven of their players are now over the age of thirty - may sense that the talent gap has narrowed and perhaps even swung in Carolina’s favor.
Even setting aside the off-ice considerations, this should be a fantastic hockey game. Both teams are undefeated at this early stage of the season, and both enter the game about as healthy as possible in the NHL. The only injuries are to Trevor van Riemsdyk and Michal Kempny - both are close to returning from long-term injuries sustained last season.
The Canes’ lines should look familiar to those used in the third period of the opener against Montreal. In goal, James Reimer will get his first start as Petr Mrazek rests for the second half of the back-to-back set tomorrow in Raleigh against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Andrei Svechnikov - Jordan Staal - Brock McGinn
Nino Niederreiter - Sebastian Aho - Teuvo Teravainen
Ryan Dzingel - Erik Haula - Martin Necas
Warren Foegele - Lucas Wallmark - Jordan Martinook
Jaccob Slavin - Dougie Hamilton
Joel Edmundson - Brett Pesce
Jake Gardiner - Haydn Fleury
Injuries and Scratches: Trevor van Riemsdyk (shoulder)
The Caps’ projected lineup:
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Lars Eller - T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin - Chandler Stephenson - Richard Panik
Brendan Leipsic - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway
Jonas Siegenthaler - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Nick Jensen
Martin Fehervary - Radko Gudas
Injuries and Scratches: Michal Kempny (hamstring)