Jan. 11 vs. Carolina Hurricanes at Capital One Arena
Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington
Radio: FAN 106.7, Capitals Radio 24/7
Carolina Hurricanes 19-15-8
Washington Capitals 27-13-3
Washington concludes a three-game homestand on Thursday night at Capital One Arena when the Carolina Hurricanes come to town for the first of their two visits to the District this season. The game starts a home-and-home set with the Hurricanes; the two teams will head south to Raleigh where they’ll play again on Friday night.
The Caps will be seeking to run the table on the homestand, and to extend their five-game winning streak as well as their 10-game winning spree on home ice. Washington won 10 straight games on F St. back in 1999-00, which was a franchise record at the time. It ranks fourth in the team’s annals these days, as the Caps followed up with 13 straight wins at home in 2009-10 and a dozen straight in 2015-16 before setting the franchise standard with 15 in a row just last season.
Two nights ago at Capital One, the Caps pushed their home winning streak to double digits and established a season high with their fifth straight win overall, a 3-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks. Philipp Grubauer was excellent in stopping 37 of 38 shots; the lone shot that beat him came while the Canucks enjoyed a two-man advantage.
“I think definitely this stretch has been our best of the year,” said Caps center Lars Eller, who has scored in each of Washington’s last two games. “Has [Tuesday’s] game been our best of the year? I don’t know, but it’s definitely up there.”
The wounded Canucks limped into town with just two wins in their previous 14 games, and the Caps made sure they didn’t fall victim to a “trap game.” Washington authored perhaps its best second period of the season against the Canucks, outshooting them by 18-4 and out-attempting them by 30-12 in the game’s middle period.
“I think we moved pretty quick,” says Caps center Evgeny Kuznetsov, “and more important for me, we moved the puck pretty quick. It’s pretty tough to defend when all five guys are moving and they put the pass on the tape. That’s always tough to defend.”
“We’ve had a bit of a bad habit of not playing very good when we play against teams that are lower than us in the standings,” admits Eller. “We talked about that before [the game], and we were able to play well enough to come out with two points, so that was satisfying.”
Eight of Washington’s regulation 13 losses this season have come at the hands of teams that are outside of the league’s playoff picture as of this writing.
With Tuesday’s triumph over Vancouver, the Caps are now 9-1-2 in their last dozen games. The three losses during that span are sandwiched between a four game winning streak on the front side, and a five-game streak on the back. Washington is 22-7-2 in its last 31 games, a pace that is just above the torrid 119-point pace at which the team played over the previous two seasons.
“I think ever since we got blown out twice [consecutively in mid-November], we’ve kind of tightened it up,” says Caps winger Devante Smith-Pelly. “It took a while to get used to everyone; a lot of changeover, but we’re rolling now. Lines are staying together a little bit more than earlier in the year with injuries, and that also probably helps a bit. Hopefully we can just keep going into the break, and after that as well.”
Washington is 17-4-2 since the mid-November losses to which Smith-Pelly referred, a dismal two-game road trip in which the Caps surrendered half a dozen goals in consecutive games at Nashville and Colorado, respectively.
For the Caps, Thursday’s game against Carolina is the first of eight straight games against Eastern Conference opponents, and six of those games come against Metro Division rivals. The Caps and Canes hooked up in Raleigh last week, with Washington taking a 5-4 overtime victory over Carolina. With this week’s home-and-home set, the Caps and Canes will have faced one another three times in a span of 11 days.
Carolina came into last week’s game against Washington on a bit of a roll, with seven wins in its previous nine games. But the Canes come into Thursday’s game having dropped four of their last five contests (1-3-1).
Most recently, the Canes lost a 5-4 decision to the Lightning in Tampa on Tuesday night. Carolina lost despite leading twice in the game and netting a pair of power-play goals. The Canes’ extra-man unit is 4-for-12 (33%) since the turn of the calendar.