Rival, noun - a person or thing competing with another for the same objective or for superiority in the same field of activity.
And there’s something to that.
For three straight years, between 2016-2018, Washington and Pittsburgh met in the second round of the playoffs. In each of those years, the team that won the series went on to win the Stanley Cup.
Of course, all that changed last year. Neither Pittsburgh nor Washington advanced past the first round. The Capitals were dispatched in seven games — at home — by their not-rival, the Carolina Hurricanes.
Yet, Washington has more than bounced back from their first-round loss to the Canes last April. They’re on pace to finish the year with 116 points; they’re currently tied with Boston and St. Louis for most points earned (65) among any NHL team. And yes, they’re once again at the top of the Metro standings.
As we saw last year, a season series doesn’t count for much. Washington swept Carolina in the regular season a year ago, only to be eliminated in Game 7 at home.
However, a regulation win tonight for the Canes would mean something. It would move them two points closer to Washington in the standings; it would hand Washington their first three-game winless streak this season. And it might do something else — it might remind Washington’s fanbase the Metro is not just the Pens’ and Caps’ division any longer.
No player exemplifies the Canes’ new confidence against the Caps more than the District’s Public Enemy No. 1, Warren Foegele. Both on and off the ice, Foegele has gotten under the skin of the Caps and their fans.
A healthy scratch late into last year’s regular season, Foegele exploded in the first round of the playoffs against Washington. His four goals in that series led the Canes, and his plus-four rating was tops across both teams. In his last ten games against Washington, Foegele has recorded ten points (6g, 4a).
Warren Foegele:— Sara Civ (@SaraCivian) December 29, 2019
“We don’t like them. They don’t like us. It’s always fun to beat them”
Foegele’s linemate, Andrei Svechnikov, has also excelled against the Caps. The 19-year-old Russian has five points and is a plus-3 in this season’s three meetings against Washington. His countryman, the future Hall-of-Famer Alex Ovechkin, has but two points and is a minus-six (the worst plus/minus rating on either team).
The emergence of the Svechnikov-Staal-Foegele line (a combined plus-28 this year) and the surprisingly weak even-strength performance of the Ovechkin-Backstrom-Wilson line (a combined minus-16 this year) should be noted as we head down the stretch.
As for tonight’s game, Petr Mrazek (17-10-2, .905 SV%, 2.64 GAA) will get his third start this season against Washington. Mrazek is coming off a shutout win over the Arizona Coyotes on Friday night, his third shutout of the season.
For Washington, Ilya Samsonov (12-2-1, .921 SV%, 2.24 GAA) will get his second start of the year against the Canes. Samsonov hasn’t lost a start since November, and he’s currently riding a seven-game winning streak.
Both teams’ lines will be little changed from what we saw last time they met on January 3rd.
Former Canes captain, and former Capital, Justin Williams is listed as a healthy scratch for the third straight game, although Rod Brind’Amour says he’s getting close to making his season debut.
Canes’ projected lineup:
Nino Niederreiter - Sebastian Aho - Teuvo Teravainen
Andrei Svechnikov - Jordan Staal - Warren Foegele
Ryan Dzingel - Erik Haula - Martin Necas
Brock McGinn - Lucas Wallmark - Jordan Martinook
Jaccob Slavin - Dougie Hamilton
Jake Gardiner - Brett Pesce
Joel Edmundson - Trevor van Riemsdyk
Injuries and Scratches: Haydn Fleury (healthy), Justin Williams (healthy)
Caps’ projected lineup:
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin - Lars Eller - Richard Panik
Brendan Leipsic - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway
Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Nick Jensen
Jonas Siegenthaler - Radko Gudas
Injuries and Scratches: Christian Djoos (Upper Body), Travis Boyd (healthy)