Round One Preview: Metropolitan #1 Capitals vs. Wild Card #1 Hurricanes

The Washington Capitals, who finished the regular season with top-seed in the Metropolitan Division with a record of 48-26-8 (104 points), and Carolina Hurricanes, who ended the regular season as the first wild-card in the Eastern Conference with a record of 46-29-7 (99 points), will face each other in the First Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It will be the first postseason series between the two teams in NHL history.  NBC Sports Washington will have coverage locally while numerous NBC Networks will broadcast the series for those outside the DMV and Raleigh.

Regular Season Recap

The Capitals swept the season series with the Hurricanes, winning 6-5 in a shootout after trailing 4-1 in the second period at PNC Arena on December 14, 3-1 at Capital One Arena on December 27 (the first game for both teams after the NHL’s mandated holiday break, 4-1 at home on March 26, and 3-2 in Raleigh on March 28.

Team Leaders

Capitals
Goals: Alex Ovechkin (51)
Assists: John Carlson (57)
Points: Ovechkin (89)
Plus-Minus: Carlson (+21)

Hurricanes
Goals: Sebastian Aho (30)
Assists: Teuvo Teravainen (55)
Points: Aho (83)
Plus-Minus: Brett Pesce (+35)

Team Stats

Goals-Per-Game:                    Capitals – 3.34 (fifth)               Hurricanes – 2.96 (16th)

Goals-Against Per Game:     Capitals – 3.02 (17th)               Hurricanes – 2.70 (T-Seventh)

Power Play:                            Capitals – 20.8% (12th)            Hurricanes – 17.8% (20th)

Penalty Kill:                           Capitals – 78.9% (24th)            Hurricanes – 81.6% (Eighth)

Home Record:                       Capitals – 24-11-6                      Hurricanes – 24-13-4

Away Record:                        Capitals – 24-15-2                     Hurricanes – 22-16-3

X-Factors

Carlson: The defenseman has topped his career-high of 53 assists and 68 points a season ago with a team-leading 57 assists and a new career-high of 70 points. His +21 rating ties his career high set in 82 games during the 2010-11 season. The 29-year old set a record for Capitals defensemen with 20 points in 24 postseason games.

Nino Niederreiter: Since being acquired in a trade with the Minnesota Wild on January 17, the 26-year old has posted 14 goals, 29 points, and a +6 rating in 35 games, which is five more goals and six more points that he had in 11 more games with the Wild this season. He is only one of eight players on Carolina who has played a game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in his career.

Goaltender Matchup

Goaltender Petr Mrazek went 23-14-3 with a save percentage of .914, a goals-against average of 2.29, and four shutouts this season. In his career against the Capitals, the 27-year old is 3-5-2 with a save percentage of .917, a goals-against average of 2.52, and one shutout. Backup Curtis McElhinney went 20-11-2 with a save percentage of .912, a goals-against average of 2.58, and two shutouts in the regular season. He has posted a record of 1-5-0 with a save percentage of .866 and a goals-against average of 3.67 in his career against the Capitals. Mrazek is 4-6 with a save percentage of .927, a goals-against average of 1.98, and three shutouts in 11 career Stanley Cup Playoff games while McElhinney is 0-1 with a save percentage of .848 and a goals-against average of 3.70 in two career postseason appearances.

Goaltender Braden Holtby went 32-19-5 with a save percentage of .911, a goals-against average of 2.82, and three shutouts in the regular season. In his career against Carolina, the 29-year old is 16-6-0 with a save percentage of .937, a goals-against average of 1.98, and two shutouts. Backup Pheonix Copley, who has never appeared in a game against the Hurricanes in his career, went 16-7-3 with a save percentage of .905, a goals-against average of 2.90, and one shutout in the regular season. Holtby is 45-37 with a save percentage of .929, a goals-against average of 2.04, and six shutouts in 82 career Stanley Cup Playoff games while Copley has never started a game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in his career.

Projected Game 1 Lineups

Hurricanes

Nino Niederreiter – Sebastian Aho – Justin Williams

Michael Ferland – Jordan Staal – Teuvo Teravainen

Andrei Svechnikov – Lucas Wallmark – Jordan Martinook

Jaccob Slavin – Dougie Hamilton

Brett Pesce – Justin Faulk

Haydn Fleury – Trevor van Riemsdyk

Petr Mrazek

Curtis McElhinney

Injured: Calvin de Hann

Capitals

Tom Wilson – Nicklas Backstrom – Alex Ovechkin

T.J. Oshie – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Jakub Vrana

Brett Connolly – Lars Eller – Carl Hagelin

Travis Boyd – Nic Dowd – Andre Burakovsky

Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen

Nick Jensen – John Carlson

Brooks Orpik – Christian Djoos

Braden Holtby

Pheonix Copley

Injured: Michal Kempny

Capitals’ Keys To The Series

  • Shut Down Aho: Aho has driven Carolina’s offense this season as he holds the goal-scoring lead on the team by seven and the scoring lead by nine. Only he and Teravainen (74) have at least 55 points on the Hurricanes.
  • Puck Possession: The Hurricanes lead the NHL with an average of 34.5 shots-per-game and are third with an average of 28.5 shots-against per game. Their 54.8 Corsi-for percentage is second in the NHL behind the San Jose Sharks’ 54.9%. The Capitals will need to have good puck management against this team. 
  • Pressure Mrazek: The 27-year old has had a save percentage no higher than .915 in each of the past three seasons and a goals-against average of at least 2.89 in each of the last two. Getting pucks and quality scoring chances to pressure Mrazek is key while facing a defense that allows the third-fewest shots in the league.

Hurricanes’ Keys To The Series

  • Stay Disciplined: While the Capitals’ power-play has had its ups and downs this year, they still have the same unit that finished second in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs with an efficiency of 29.3% and burned a lot of teams. While the Hurricanes have a strong penalty-kill, they do not want to play with fire against a power-play with as many weapons as the Capitals have.
  • Commit To Defense: The Capitals have seven players who have at least 20 goals this season, including the Rocket Richard winner in Ovechkin. In addition, they have 11 players with at least a shooting percentage of 10%, so blocking shots will be critical.
  • Draw Penalties: The Capitals take the 312 penalty minutes are the sixth most in the NHL this season and their penalty kill has not been inspiring this season. The more penalties they draw, the more the Capitals will have to work and force them into more mistakes. If the Hurricanes can improve their power-play, that could give them a chance to dethrone the champs.

Playoff Experience

While this will be the first series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the Hurricanes in a decade, they still have plenty of playoff experience throughout their roster. Captain Justin Williams has played in 140 playoff games in his career, including Stanley Cups with Carolina and the Los Angeles Kings. Defenseman Dougie Hamilton has 23 postseason contests under his belt while forward Michael Ferland has 13 games. While center Jordan Staal hasn’t had any since 2012, he has played in 73 playoff games in his career and won a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009. Niederreiter has played in 39 playoff games in the past five seasons. Mrazek has gone 4-6 with a save percentage of .927, a goals-against average of 1.98, and three shutouts in his playoff career. Teravainen and Van Riemsdyk won the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015.

Jensen, Copley, Seigenthaler, and Dowd are the only players on the Capitals who have yet to play a playoff game. Other than forward Dmitrij Jaskin, the rest of the Capitals appeared in at least one game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season.

How They’re Entering The Series

The Capitals went 6-3-1 in their last 10 regular season games and 15-5-1 in their last 20.

The Hurricanes finished the season with a 6-4-0 record in their last 10 and 30-12-2 in their last 44.

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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10 Responses to Round One Preview: Metropolitan #1 Capitals vs. Wild Card #1 Hurricanes

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