The Hurricanes Storm Into Town on Thursday to Kick Off Home and Home Series with Capitals

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Washington CapitalsPhoto: NBC Sports Washington

The Capitals and Hurricanes begin a home and home set with each other when Carolina visits Washington for the first time this season on Thursday night. Washington won the only meeting of the season between the two teams so far this season, 5-4 in an overtime thriller on January 2 at PNC Arena. The Hurricanes host the Capitals on Friday night. 

Carolina Hurricanes

The Hurricanes conclude a four-game road trip in Washington on Thursday night. After winning 4-0 in Pittsburgh last Thursday night, the Hurricanes dropped a 7-1 decision in Boston and most recently, a 5-4 contest in Tampa Bay on Tuesday. Prior to its loss against the Bruins on Saturday, the Hurricanes went 8-2-1 over its past 11 games.

The Hurricanes are one point behind Pittsburgh for a wild card spot and are tied with the Philadelphia Flyers and the New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference wild-card standings. Carolina has two games in hand on Pittsburgh and one on New York. The Hurricanes are a dominant home team but have just gone 9-11-4 on the road this season.

The Hurricanes have lost their last six straight games in Washington, going 0-4-2 in that span. Last season, the Hurricanes got outscored by a combined score of 11-1 in the two games they played last season in Washington. They have not won in Washington since January 2, 2014 and have not won in regulation since December 3, 2013. Carolina won all three of its games in Washington during the 2013-14 season.

Like the Capitals, the Hurricanes’ bye week is also approaching. After the home-and-home series with Washington, they host the Calgary Flames on Sunday and do not play again until Saturday at the Detroit Red Wings.

Justin Williams visits his former team for the first time. Williams had 46 goals and 100 points in 162 games over a two-year span with Washington. He also registered six goals and 16 points in 25 playoff games with the Capitals. This season, Williams has tallied seven goals and 26 points in 42 games. He registered an assist against Washington on January 2.

The Carolina Hurricanes are usually a very good penalty killing team, having finished fifth on the circuit last year at 84.2% and sixth in 2015-16 at 84.3%. This season, the Hurricanes have killed 79.0% of their penalty kills, good for 24th in the league. They are currently sitting one spot behind the Capitals, who are just slightly better at 79.6%.

It is likely that the Capitals will see both Hurricanes’ goaltenders during the back-to-back contests against one another. On Thursday night, the Hurricanes will likely decide to start Scott Darling on Thursday and let Cam Ward start at home. After going 18-5-5 record with a .924 save percentage and a 2.38 goals against average with the Chicago Blackhawks, the Hurricanes acquired him in May hoping he would provide Carolina with strong goaltending. As it turned out, Darling has struggled as a starter, going 8-11-6 with an .893 save percentage and a 2.97 goals against average this season. He lost the starting job to Cam Ward. In three appearances against Washington in his career, Darling has gone 0-1-0 with an .828 save percentage and a 4.10 goals against average.

Washington Capitals

The Capitals will conclude a short three-game homestand against the Hurricanes and start a stretch where they will play four out of their next five contests against Metropolitan Division opponents. After the set of back-to-backs with Carolina, Washington returns from their bye week on Thursday to take on New Jersey. They come home the next night to play the Montreal Canadiens before facing the Philadelphia Flyers at home.

Washington is coming into Thursday riding a season-high five game winning streak and a 10-game winning streak at home. The Capitals were most recently in action on Tuesday, defeating the Vancouver Canucks 3-1. After the Canucks scored the game’s first goal on a 5-on-3 man advantage, Washington got goals from John Carlson, Lars Eller, and Evgeny Kuznetsov to skate away with a win. Phillipp Grubauer stopped 37 out of 38 shots he faced.

The Capitals have gone 12-3-1 over their past 16 games against the Hurricanes and have won their past four meetings with Carolina.

Alex Ovechkin comes into Thursday’s game riding a five-game point streak. He has four goals and nine points over that span, including a two-goal performance against the Hurricanes on January 2. He scored on the only two shots he took against the Hurricanes just over a week ago and had a +3 rating in that game. Ovechkin enters Thursday leading the league in goals with 27. Ovechkin was selected captain of the Metropolitan Division for the All-Star Game in Tampa Bay.

Fresh off of an NHL All-Star selection, Braden Holtby will likely get the start against the Hurricanes. He made 31 saves on 34 shots in his last start, a 4-3 overtime win against the St. Louis Blues on Sunday. He is 24-8-0 with a .917 save percentage and a 2.68 goals against average this season. He also stopped 34 of 38 shots he faced against the Hurricanes in Raleigh last Tuesday. Lifetime against Carolina, he is 12-4-0 with a .943 save percentage and a 1.85 goals against average. He has two shutouts in his career against the Hurricanes.

Skate Shavings

-Alex Ovechkin has potted 35 goals and 82 points in 70 career games against the Hurricanes, the second highest point total he has against a single opponent (Winnipeg: 88, Tampa Bay: 84)

-The Capitals’ 36 points at home is good for the second most in the NHL and one point behind first (Vegas: 37). They are the only team in the NHL without a home loss since December 1.

John Carlson‘s 34 points are three shy of his total from 72 games last season and his 29 assists are tied for second among NHL defenseman this season. He has two goals and six points in his last four games.

A Look Back in Time

The last time these two teams met in Washington was back on February 7, a 5-0 Washington victory at home. The Capitals won their 10th straight home game with goals from Brett Connolly, Alex Ovechkin, Lars EllerEvgeny Kuznetsov, and Marcus Johansson. The Capitals scored three goals in the final period, including two goals in 27 seconds from Eller and Kuznetsov. The win was Washington’s fourth in a row and their second consecutive 5-0 win on home ice. Braden Holtby made 23 saves for the shutout.

By Harrison Brown

About Harrison Brown

Harrison is a diehard Caps fan and a hockey fanatic with a passion for sports writing. He attended his first game at age 8 and has been a season ticket holder since the 2010-2011 season. His fondest Caps memory was watching the Capitals hoist the Stanley Cup in Las Vegas. In his spare time, he enjoys travel, photography, and hanging out with his two dogs. Follow Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonB927077
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