Home And Home –
Washington hosts the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night at Capital One Arena, the first of consecutive contests between the Caps and Canes in a span of just two nights.
The schedule hasn’t delivered many home-and-home sets to the Caps in recent seasons, but this is the first of four of them for Washington in 2017-18, with all three coming against Metro Division opponents.
“It’s a little bit different,” admits Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen. “I think ideally, you like playing different teams every night. It’s just more refreshing, and a different challenge every night. But this presents a unique challenge. It’s a divisional opponent that’s trying to climb [in the standings], and we’re trying to stay where we are.
“It could be a big swing here in a matter of two nights if we’re sharp or if we’re not. Hopefully, we’ll be real competitive at home here tonight and try to get that first one.”
The true and traditional home-and-home set involves playing the same team on consecutive nights in both cities, and this week’s home-and-home with Carolina fits those criteria, as does the March 15-16 home-and-home set of games with the New York Islanders. The Caps also have a home-and-home set with Columbus in early February and with the New York Rangers in late March, but there are two off days between games against the Blue Jackets and one day between the games with the Rangers.
“I don’t know if it’s easier or tougher,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz of playing a home-and-home set. “I know from probably a scouting standpoint it makes it easier. When you play the same team in a back-to-back, home-and-home type of thing, I think you’ve just got to take it one period at a time. Win the period ahead of you, and try to collect as many periods as you can. You’re going to get sick of each other in six periods. That could get interesting, so we’ll see.”
“I don’t mind it, to be honest with you,” says Canes coach Bill Peters. “I like the fact that there are not a lot of changes in between games. You obviously use head-to-head clips, and guys are familiar. So it’s fresh in your memory how the last game ended and how the last game was played.”
Rotating Heads –
Washington currently has a roster that features 13 healthy forwards, all of whom are playing reasonably well and who are contributing to the cause, as evidenced by the fact that 18 different skaters have recorded points during the life of Washington’s current five-game winning streak.
This qualifies as a “good problem to have,” as Washington has more able bodies than it has spots for able bodies up front. Alex Chiasson sat out the Caps’ 3-1 win over Vancouver on Tuesday, and Chiasson returns to the lineup tonight, but Brett Connolly sits.
“I’m looking at a couple of things,” says Trotz. “Certain situations are there for us, and today I don’t have Conno in there right now. He hasn’t played poorly; he’s actually been fine. But I look at our schedule, I look at trying to keep some guys in the lineup because of where they are and what they do for us. So I’m just rotating a player each time here a little bit, and when a player is not playing well, I’m just pulling them out.
“But in Conno’s case, he’s been pretty decent for us the last little while. So that was a little bit of a conversation that he probably didn’t want to hear. But it is the reality of our schedule and where we are.”
Despite ranking 13
among Washington forwards with an average of just 11:27 in ice time nightly, Connolly has scored nine goals on the season, and he is tied with Nicklas Backstrom for fifth on the team in that regard. Last season, Connolly finished the season with 15 goals despite averaging just 10:41 per night in ice time. There were 174 players in the NHL who scored 15 or more goals last season, and Connolly ranked No. 174 among them in average ice time per night.
Thus far this season, Connolly is one of 160 players who have scored as many as nine goals. He ranks No. 160 in average ice time per game on that list.
Here’s To Your Health –
Both the Caps and the Hurricanes go into this set of home-and-home games at peak health, a relative rarity for this time of the season. Washington was missing Niskanen when it traveled to Raleigh for its first game of calendar 2018 last week, and the Canes were still missing veteran forward Lee Stempniak, who has yet to play this season.
Niskanen missed only that one game, and Stempniak has been cleared to return and is on Carolina’s active roster, but he has not worked his way into the lineup yet.
In The Nets –
After Philipp Grubauer backstopped the Caps to a 3-1 victory over Vancouver with a 37-save performance on Tuesday night, the Caps will go back to Braden Holtby for Thursday’s game with the Hurricanes. Holtby gets the net for Washington a day after learning of his third consecutive All-Star berth.
Holtby is aiming for his 25
win of the season tonight, and he is seeking his ninth straight victory at Capital One Arena. In 19 home starts this season, Holtby is 15-4-0 with a 2.14 GAA and a .932 save pct.
Lifetime against the Hurricanes, Holtby is 12-4-0 with a pair of shutouts, a 1.85 GAA and a .943 save pct. in 16 appearances.
For the Hurricanes, Scott Darling gets the net tonight against Washington. Carolina obtained Darling from Chicago in a trade last summer, and then signed him to a four-year contract with the expectation that he would be the Canes’ No. 1 netminder going forward while they eased veteran Cam Ward into more of a secondary role.
But Darling has struggled out of the gates in his first season with Carolina, leaving the Canes to go mostly with Ward of late, because he’s had easily the hottest hand of the two. With the home-and-home set here, the Canes are going with Darling in the road game and are likely to go back to Ward on Friday, though Peters hasn’t confirmed his goaltender for Friday as of yet.
Darling has collected only eight wins in 24 starts this season while Ward has earned 11 wins with just 18 starts. Since the beginning of December, Darling is 1-5-1 in eight appearances (seven starts). He has a 3.68 GAA and an .868 save pct. over that span.
Lifetime against the Capitals, Darling is 0-1-0 in three appearances, with a 4.10 GAA and an .828 save pct.
All Lined Up –
Here’s how we expect the Caps to look when they take to the ice on Thursday night at Capital One Arena in the front end of a home-and-home set of games against the Carolina Hurricanes:
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 25-Smith-Pelly
13-Vrana, 92-Kuznetsov, 43-Wilson
65-Burakovsky, 20-Eller, 77-Oshie
18-Stephenson, 83-Beagle, 39-Chiasson
20-Aho, 11-Staal, 28-Lindholm
53-Skinner, 49-Rask, 86-Teravainen
23-McGinn, 7-Ryan, 14-Williams
42-Nordstrom, 16-Kruger, 19-Jooris
5-Hanifin, 57-van Riemsdyk