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Caps Host Canes in First Ever Metropolitan Match-up

October 9, 2013
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Oct. 10 vs. Carolina Hurricanes at Verizon Center    

Time: 7:00 p.m.


Radio: Capitals Radio Network


Carolina Hurricanes (1-1-1)

Washington Capitals (1-2)


Washington opens a season-long five-game homestand on Thursday night when it hosts the Carolina Hurricanes. The game marks the first Metropolitan Division tangle ever for the Capitals, who shared tenancy in the now-defunct Southeast Division with the Hurricanes from 1998-99 through 2012-13.


Thursday’s game is the first of five meetings between the Caps and the Canes this season. It’s also Washington’s first game against a fellow Eastern Conference club this season. That’s a rarity this month; nine of the Capitals’ 12 October games will come against Western Conference opponents.


“Two points is two points,” notes Caps forward Brooks Laich of facing the Canes. “It is a division game but we just want to win. We’ve only got one win so far, and it’s been in a shootout. We want to get back to winning in regulation and then putting streaks together and separating ourselves from the pack. It’s a game [where] we’ve got to start something. Got to start some momentum.”


Since suffering a 2-1 setback to the Stars in Dallas on Saturday night, the Caps have had one day off and three days of practice. This four-day respite between games is rare; the next time the Caps have four days between tilts will be Jan. 5-8.


“I think it was good,” says Caps left wing Jason Chimera of the three days of practice. “It was also good to get some chemistry with your line, talk about some things and look at some video.


“Sometimes when you go through the season, you don’t practice enough and you feel like you need a good practice in and work on some things. You don’t get a chance to work on things in games. But this is a good chance to work on some things. It’s been good. We had a chance to relax on Sunday, spend some time with the family, reboot it and get going again.”


It’s early in the season, but the Caps had a rugged stretch of travel to conclude their preseason, and that also carried into the season’s first week. Washington played four games in six nights to finish off its exhibition slate and its 2013 training camp, traveling to Boston and Chicago in the process. The following week found the Caps in Chicago again, back home for their home opener, and then right back to the middle of the continent for Saturday’s game against Dallas.


“No, we actually had a tough week,” said Oates in the immediate aftermath of the Dallas loss. “We traveled to Chicago, back home and back to Chicago, home and then Dallas. It’s been a lot of hockey in a short span with no real days off, so I’m sure the guys can use a day off {Sunday] and then we’ll jack it back up for the week.”


Jack it back up they did, to the point that by Tuesday’s practice – the second of the three – the Caps were feeling a bit too familiar with one another.


“Some of the stuff we’ve worked on is positioning and set plays out of a cycle or out of a regroup or out of a puck coming out of the blueline,” explains Laich of the Caps’ practice focus this week, “set positions that are going to make us more predictable to each other. But the three days of practice is unusual. We were actually talking about it this morning. Yesterday in practice there were a couple of little tillies, little tiffs or hornets’ nests between guys. That’s what happens when you get three days of practice between each other. Guys are ready to play games.


“It is nice to get some reps in practice, especially with some new guys and a new linemate. It’s nice to get practice time. But we feel sharp and ready to go [Thursday].”


Speaking of “new guys,” Caps defenseman Alexander Urbom is expected to make his Washington debut on Thursday, exactly a week after he was claimed off waivers from the New Jersey Devils. The 22-year-old is a lefty shot, a native of Sweden and a veteran of just 14 previous NHL contests. Urbom was a rookie with the Devils during Oates’ tenure there as an assistant coach.


“He looks like the same player I saw in Jersey,” says Oates of Urbom. “He’s a big guy, he skates well, moves the puck well. I think he’s very excited right now to have a second chance.”


Although the Caps have led in each of their three games in the young season, and although the team might have gained a point – at the very least – in all three games if not for a disallowed goal in Dallas and failure to cash in on a lengthy 5-on-3 in Chicago, some of the natives are getting restless and wondering when Oates might start tinkering with his lines and/or lineup.


After all, the Caps have been outscored 10-3 at even-strength (including an empty-net goal against) in those three games.


“I’m really not worried about it at all,” says Oates. “I know what the guys can do and you’ve seen what they can do. We have a lot of guys who need to get a couple of goals and relax. We need to keep in our rhythm; that’s the most important thing.”


Oates has faced the media four times since Saturday’s loss to the Stars and the conversation seems to get steered to the lineup or possible line changes at every one of those sessions.


Don’t hold your breath.


“I’m a very patient guy when it comes to that,” declares Oates. “You’ve got to give a guy a fair amount of time to let everything happen. And the league is tough. There are always subplots to every situation in terms of ice time, fatigue. Did those guys kill a penalty so they’re not quite as sharp five-on-five? So for me, yes, I am very patient.”


Players appreciate Oates’ patience.


“It seems kind of like the panic button is on already for no reason,” muses Chimera. “We lost two one-goal games and had one disallowed goal that we felt should not have been disallowed.


“We’re not far off. We’ve just got to score more five-on-five which is obvious, but to push the panic button? If it’s 20 games into the season and we’re 2-18, then it’s time to push the panic button. But we’re fine. We went into two tough buildings and we fared pretty well. We had a chance to win both games. I think it’s too early to push that big old red button.”


Washington is 15-4-4 against Carolina over the last four seasons.


Since winning the Stanley Cup in 2006, the Hurricanes have missed the playoffs for each of the last four seasons and six of the last seven.


Carolina remade its roster over the offseason; turning over virtually half the squad from the end of last season. The Canes have brought in new blood from their own system (Ryan Murphy, Elias Lindholm and Brett Bellemore) and several players from the outside (Andrej Sekera, Radek Dvorak, Nathan Gerbe, Mike Komisarek, Ron Hainsey and Anton Khudobin) in an effort to get the team over the playoff hump in 2013-14.


Carolina scored exactly two goals in each of its first three games of the season, collecting one of those strikes on the power play.


The Canes opened with a pair of games on home ice, an overtime loss to Detroit and a 2-1 win over Philadelphia. Carolina started its first road trip of the season with a 5-2 loss to the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night.


Former Hurricane Jussi Jokinen bit the hand that once fed him with a hat trick for the Pens in that Tuesday contest. And actually, that hand still feeds Jokinen. He was placed on waivers last season, and the Pens surrendered a conditional pick to obtain him from Carolina on April 3. Another condition of that swap was that the Canes would foot the freight on $900,000 of his $3 million salary this season.


Thursday’s game completes the Canes’ first quick journey of the season. Carolina returns home to host the Los Angeles Kings on Friday. The games against the Caps and the Kings mark the first of 20 sets of games on back-to-back nights for Carolina this season.