The Washington Capitals host the Carolina Hurricanes in the second meeting of the season between the two teams on Thursday night as each team returns from the holiday break. The Capitals came back to beat the Hurricanes 6-5 in a shootout after trailing 4-1 in the second period the first time the two teams met in Raleigh on December 14. Action from Capital One Arena can be seen on NBC Sports Washington beginning at 7 PM.
Carolina started the season 4-0-1 but enter Thursday’s game with only 35 points, the fourth-fewest in the Eastern Conference. Their 90 goals rank worst in the East and 30th in the NHL, only ahead of the Los Angeles Kings (86). They are also 6-9-1 away from PNC Arena but won each of their two games in Washington by a combined score of 7-2 a season ago.
The Hurricanes begin a short two-game divisional road trip in Washington. They will play the New Jersey Devils for a Saturday matinee at the Rock. Carolina is coming off of a five-game homestand, where they went 2-2-1 including the 6-5 shootout loss to the Capitals a little less than two weeks ago.
After being a strong penalty killing team for a number of years, Carolina is in the middle of the pack this season, only ranking 14th with an efficiency of 80.5%. Their power-play is also not that strong as the Hurricanes have an efficiency of 15.7%, which is tied with the New York Islanders for 23rd in the NHL. Despite mediocre special teams, the Hurricanes’ average of 37.5 shots per game ranks first in the NHL. The San Jose Sharks, who rank second behind the Hurricanes, average 2.6 shots fewer than Carolina.
Forward Sebastian Aho’s 14 goals, 38 points, and 10 power-play points each rank first on the team with only two of the 14 goals coming on the power-play. He has been a thorn in the Capitals’ side in his career as his seven goals and 15 points against Washington are the most he has tallied against a single franchise. The 21-year old recorded two goals and four points against the Capitals in the first meeting of the season between the two teams about a couple of weeks ago.
With goaltender Scott Darling in Charlotte of the AHL, expect goaltender Petr Mrazek, who is 6-7-2 with a save percentage of .898, a goals-against average of 2.63, and one shutout this season, to get the nod in Washington on Thursday. Lifetime against the Capitals, the 26-year old goaltender is 3-3-2 with a save percentage of .917, a goals-against average of 2.51, and a shutout.
The Capitals enter Thursday’s game winners of two straight games, in seven of their past eight, and 14 of their last 17. Entering the holiday break, the Capitals won back-to-back games beating the Buffalo Sabres by a score of 2-1 on Friday night at home before defeating the Ottawa Senators 4-0 at Canadian Tire Center on Saturday night.
Captain Alex Ovechkin will aim to become the first player in the NHL this season to hit 30 goals against the Hurricanes. The 33-year old forward leads the Capitals with 44 points this season. After his 14-game point-streak, where he tallied 17 goals and 23 points, and six-game goal-scoring streak, where he posted 10 goals, Ovechkin just has an assist in three games since.
Washington’s average of 3.6 goals-per-game ranks third in the NHL only behind the Tampa Bay Lightning (4.08) and the Toronto Maple Leafs (3.78). The Capitals’ power-play unit ranks seventh in the league converting at a rate of 23.4%. The team boasts four players who average at least a point-per-game: Ovechkin (1.26), center Nicklas Backstrom (1.17), center Evgeny Kuznetsov (1.10), and defenseman John Carlson (1.03).
The Capitals boast one of the top defensive pairings in the league this season in Carlson and Michal Kempny. Each is in a four-way tie for second in the NHL with a +22 rating. Carlson, 28, ranks fourth on the team with 24 takeaways while Kempny, 28, is tied for eighth with forwards T.J. Oshie and Nic Dowd with 13. Kempny’s 75 blocked shots are first on the team while Carlson’s 68 are right behind him.
Goaltender Braden Holtby, who is 14-8-2 with a save percentage of .914, a goals-against average of 2.79, and two shutouts this season, will likely start against the Hurricanes on Thursday night. Lifetime against Carolina, the 29-year old netminder is 13-6-0 with a save percentage of .935, a goals-against average of 2.09, and two shutouts. He made 22 saves in the Capitals’ 6-5 win over the Hurricanes on December 14.
-Ovechkin’s 39 goals and 88 points in 74 career games against the Hurricanes are each the second-most he’s tallied against a single team (47 goals, 91 points in 64 career games vs. Winnipeg Jets)
-Kuznetsov enters Thursday’s game vs. Carolina three points shy of 300 in his career
-The Capitals are 12-5-0 in their last 17 games against the Hurricanes
A Look Back In Time
The Capitals won their 10th straight home game with goals from forward Brett Connolly, Ovechkin, center Lars Eller, Kuznetsov, and forward Marcus Johansson. The Capitals scored three goals in the final period, including two from Eller and Kuznetsov in a span 27 seconds, to go on to win 5-0 against the Hurricanes. The win was Washington’s fourth in a row. Holtby made 23 saves in the shutout.
By Harrison Brown