Dec. 3 vs. Carolina Hurricanes at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio Network
Carolina Hurricanes (10-12-5)
Washington Capitals (14-11-2)
Washington brings a modest two-game winning run into Tuesday night’s home game against the Carolina Hurricanes at Verizon Center. It’s been nearly two months since the two Metropolitan Division rivals faced one another, and this is the first of two meetings between the two teams this month.
The Caps concluded the month of November with a 9-4-2 mark, pulling at least a point from five of their six road games during the month. The Capitals started and ended November with sweeps of games on back-to-back nights.
After a poor first period in a Friday night home game against the Montreal Canadiens, the Caps rebounded with 45 solid minutes thereafter, and that was good enough for a 3-2 shootout win over the Habs. A night later on Long Island, the Caps put together another strong performance, but they needed late heroics from their best players to get out of town with a 3-2 overtime victory.
Islanders’ forward Thomas Vanek gave his team a 2-1 lead in the game’s 59th minute, and when Mike Green took an interference call to prevent New York from taking a two-goal lead with Caps goalie Braden Holtby pulled for the extra skater, it looked like lights out for the Capitals.
But Nicklas Backstrom netted an improbable shorthanded goal with less than a minute remaining to help the Caps push the game into overtime, and Alex Ovechkin won it with his 14th career overtime game-winning goal, and his fifth against the Islanders.
Backstrom’s shorthanded goal was his first in more than three years, the second of his NHL career and his first that actually beat an opposing goaltender. The first shorthanded goal of Backstrom’s career came against the Hurricanes in Raleigh on Oct. 27, 2010, and it was an empty-netter late that gave the Caps a 3-0 lead in the first shutout of Washington goaltender Michal Neuvirth’s NHL career.
Jason Chimera and Karl Alzner assisted on Backstrom’s game-tying shorthanded tally. For both Chimera and Alzner, the clutch helper represented their first career shorthanded assists in the NHL.
“We figured out a way to win the other night,” says Caps coach Adam Oates, speaking of the road win over the Islanders. “We played a pretty good hockey game. We did a lot of good things. We could have scored a lot of goals in the game; we didn’t. Everybody got to play, it was a back-to-back game, we figured out a way to score a big goal shorthanded at the end of the game, which was great. Great play by everybody. And then we got it done in overtime.
“I keep reinforcing that there is only a certain way to play. And you’ve got to give yourself those chances because in an [82-game] schedule, a lot of different things can happen and we’re seeing that on a night-to-night basis. They all know that; they just need to be reminded of that.”
Winning the last two games – after a four-game slide – has likely helped serve as a reminder. And Washington followed that dreadful first frame on Friday night against the Habs with a much better first 20 minutes on Saturday against the Islanders.
“You’re going to have breakdowns and you’re going to have letdowns over the course of games,” says Caps right wing Troy Brouwer. “They always get amplified when they’re in the first five or 10 minutes of the game because you look slow or sluggish. But in the Islanders game, I thought we had a great start right from the first shift. And then moving on from there, we got some good zone time. We didn’t get a whole lot of shots in that first period, but we were moving the puck well and we were feeling good.
“The last five periods that we’ve played, we’ve looked comfortable out there, we’ve looked like we’re confident and we’re moving pucks forward, getting opportunities in their zone. And we’ve been pretty good in our zone, not giving up too many opportunities.”
Although the Caps have played better in those five periods, Alzner isn’t ready to pronounce them “out of the woods” yet.
“Those last five periods or so have been great,” says the Caps defenseman. “But we had that exact same thing seven, eight games ago when we played good for a bunch of games, then we had two and a half stinkers. I guess it just depends on us keeping it up for maybe 10 games at a time, a bigger chunk than just three or four. And after that maybe we can talk about everything being turned and then we’re on the right track. But we have seen flashes of good hockey from the team.”
Washington has surrendered 30 or more shots on goal in 23 of its 27 games this season, the most in the NHL. The Caps know they need to reduce that number, and they’re working on spending more time at the other end of the ice.
“I think just getting it deep,” says Caps center Jay Beagle. “We’ve been really harping on that. Oatsey still wants us to make plays – when they’re there – coming over the other team’s blueline, but not to force anything and give them turnovers and easy entries back into our zone. Just trying to play more in their zone and not as much in our zone is the main thing that as a team we’ve been focusing on.”
Although Washington’s forwards realize that carrying the puck into the attack zone is more beneficial to producing offense than the dump and chase routine, at least one Caps’ defenseman believes the latter method can also be useful.
“I don’t know what it’s like for the forwards,” says Alzner, “having to dump the puck in and go get it all the time, but I know as a defenseman that sucks to play against, when a team keeps coming after you. It takes a little bit of pressure off; you don’t have to beat a guy 1-on-1 or 2-on-2 all the time, you can get the puck in and work it down low for a bit.
“It’s all about sending a message. When I watch the video and I see a team that dumps it in and has a good cycle game, I always think: ‘It’s going to be a tough night.’ If we can play that way all the time, it’s going to be trouble for other teams. We’ve got so many good players here.”
Carolina comes to town in sixth place in the Metropolitan Division, but the Canes are a mere five points behind second-place Washington. The Canes emerged victorious in the first game played between the two teams this season, a 3-2 triumph on Oct. 10 at Verizon Center.
The Hurricanes have lost two in a row, losing a 5-2 home ice decision to the Devils on Friday and dropping a 3-2 close shave to the Vancouver Canucks in Raleigh on Sunday. In that Sunday game, both Canes goals came in the first minute of the second period, just 10 seconds apart. According to Elias Sports Bureau, that’s the first time since Nov. 1, 1987 that the Hartford/Carolina franchise has scored two goals in the first minute of a period.
Anton Khudobin earned the win for the Canes in goal on the team’s first visit to the District back in October. Khudobin is currently on injured reserve with a lower body injury.
The Hurricanes are also missing ex-Caps winger Alexander Semin, who is currently on the sidelines with a concussion. Semin has three goals and nine points in 20 games with Carolina this season.
Carolina goaltender Cam Ward has returned to active duty after missing 10 games with a lower body injury. Since getting back in the lineup, Ward is 2-3-1 in six starts. He has a 3.01 GAA and a .919 save pct. in those six starts. Lifetime against the Capitals, Ward is 16-11-4 with four shutouts, a 2.54 GAA and a .922 save pct.
The Hurricanes are 2-5-1 in their last eight games. Carolina had 31 shots on goal in its Sunday loss to the Canucks, just the second time in their last dozen games that the Canes have managed to amass 30 or more shots on net in a game.