Photo: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
The Washington Capitals host the Carolina Hurricanes for the first meeting of the season between the two teams on Saturday night. The Capitals swept the Hurricanes in a four-game series during the 2018-19 regular-season but lost a seven-game First-Round Stanley Cup Playoff series to them, dropping all three road games. The Capitals beat the Hurricanes twice during the preseason, including a 3-2 win at home two weeks ago. Action from Capital One Arena can be seen on NBC Sports Washington beginning at 7 PM ET.
The Hurricanes were among the league’s most surprising teams a season ago, finishing the season with a 30-12-2 record in their last 44 games to punch their first ticket to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in a decade. They shocked many in the Spring, dethroning the defending Stanley Cup Champions despite trailing by two goals in Game 7 and sweeping the reigning Stanley Cup Championship coach in Barry Trotz and the New York Islanders before getting swept by the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final.
Center Sebastian Aho, who signed a five-year, $42.27 million ($8.45 million AAV) offer sheet with the Montreal Canadiens that was matched by the Hurricanes in early July, led the team with 30 goals and 83 points in 82 games a season ago. He was held off of the scoresheet in the Hurricanes’ season opener, a 4-3 shootout win over the Canadiens at home on Thursday. Forward Teuvo Teravainen, who also failed to get on the scoresheet in the season-opening win over the Canadiens, led the Hurricanes with 55 assists last year.
The Hurricanes made a lot of moves over the offseason, acquiring center Erik Haula, who scored 29 goals in 2017-18, in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights; defenseman Joel Edmundson, who recorded a goal and seven points in 22 Stanley Cup Playoff games with the Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues last Spring, in a trade with the Blues last month; and goaltender James Reimer, who went 13-12-5 with a .900 save percentage and 3.06 goals-against average in 36 games last season, in a deal with the Florida Panthers in late June. They also added center Ryan Dzingel, who notched 26 goals and 56 points in 78 games with the Ottawa Senators and Columbus Blue Jackets last season, and defenseman Jake Gardiner, who tallied three goals, 30 points, and a +19 rating in 62 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs last season, through free agency. Captain Justin Williams (taking a break from the NHL), defenseman Justin Faulk (traded to Blues), goaltender Curtis McElhinney (signed with Tampa Bay Lightning as an unrestricted free agent), defenseman Calvin de Haan (traded to Chicago Blackhawks), forward Michael Ferland (signed with Vancouver Canucks as an unrestricted free agent), and center Greg McKegg (signed with New York Rangers as an unrestricted free agent) all left Carolina in the offseason.
The Hurricanes were stingy defensively a season ago as their average of 2.70 goals-against per game was tied with the Presidents Trophy-winning Lightning for the seventh-fewest in the NHL, 28.6 shots-against per game was the third, and 81.6% penalty-killing efficiency was the eighth-best. Their defense went through some turnover in the offseason but remains strong with the additions of Edmundson and Gardiner.
Expect to see Petr Mrazek, who was 23-14-3 with a .914 save percentage, 2.39 goals-against average, and four shutouts last season, in net for the Hurricanes on Saturday night. In his career against the Capitals during the regular season, the 27-year old has a 3-5-2 record, a .917 save percentage, a 2.52 goals-against average, and one shutout. Mrazek recorded a .899 save percentage, a 2.54 goals-against average, and a whitewash in last season’s Stanley Cup Playoff series against the Capitals.
The Capitals play their first home game of the 2019-20 season after opening the campaign with two wins on the road, including a 2-1 victory over the Islanders on Friday night. They were 24-11-6 at Capital One Arena last season, falling short of the 25-win mark at home for the first time since 2013-14 when they last missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The team will begin a short two-game homestand against the Hurricanes.
Through two games, center Lars Eller and defenseman John Carlson, who led the Capitals with 57 assists a season ago, share the team lead with three points (all assists). Forward Jakub Vrana has also impressed with his play as he has earned two goals, including the overtime winner against the Blues in the season opener on Wednesday. Captain Alex Ovechkin, who led the NHL with 51 goals and the Capitals with 87 points last year, has just a goal in his first two games of the season.
Center Evgeny Kuznetsov will serve the final game of a three-game suspension for inappropriate conduct on Saturday night. He will be eligible to play on Tuesday when the Capitals host the Dallas Stars. Defenseman Michal Kempny (hamstring), who has not played since March 20, is getting closer towards returning but is not on track to make his season debut until next week, per head coach Todd Reirden. The Capitals aren’t expected to make any line changes ahead of Saturday’s game, meaning defenseman Martin Fehervary and forward Chandler Stephenson will likely play their third straight games, respectively.
The Capitals have not entertained many with their offensive skill in the first two games of the season as they have just five goals to show for it. But they are getting it done on the defensive side of the puck after they finished 17th in the NHL in goals-against (249) last season. They have held the opposition to an average of just 24 shots per game and a total of three goals through two games, including only one in their last five periods of hockey.
Goaltender Braden Holtby, who went 32-19-5 with a save percentage of .911, a goals-against-average of 2.82, and three shutouts last season, will get the nod against the Hurricanes on Saturday after Ilya Samsonov made 25 saves in Friday’s win over the Islanders. The 30-year old is 16-6-0 with a save percentage of .937, a goals-against-average of 1.98, and two shutouts in his career against the Hurricanes during the regular season. He recorded a .914 save percentage, a 2.67 goals-against average, and one shutout against Carolina in the first round last April.
- Ovechkin enters Saturday one power-play goal shy of passing Luc Robitaille (247) for the fourth-most power-play goals in NHL history
- The Capitals are 26-15-2-1 all-time in home openers and are 15-1-1 in their last 17 home openers; in addition, they have outscored opponents by a combined score of 13-1 in their past two home openers
- The Capitals have scored a power-play goal in each of their first two games for the first time since the 2013-14 season
By Harrison Brown