One thing about the injury bug: it doesn’t discriminate, biting first place teams and bottom dwellers alike. So when the Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals meet tonight at Verizon Center, both teams are going to be missing players they’d like to have in the lineup.
The Hurricanes are leading the Southeast Division, but only because they’ve played one less game than the Tampa Bay Lightning. Their tenuous hold on that spot is even tougher without the services of forwards Jeff Skinner and Tuomo Ruutu and defensemen Joni Pitkanen and Jamie McBain. Fellow blueliner Tim Gleason may be recovered enough from his lower body injury to give it a go, but he’s questionable.
Washington doesn’t have quite as long an injured list, especially with Mike Green expected back. But the Caps got some unpleasant surprises during their Monday practice, with Nicklas Backstrom too sick to participate and Jason Chimera leaving early with an apparent lower body injury.
Most of the attention on players who actually will be on the ice tonight has been on Alexander Semin, who returns to Verizon Center after switching from the Caps to the Hurricanes during the off-season. Troy Brouwer made this homecoming more intriguing by suggesting that Washington was better without Semin and blasting his work effort, though he’s hardly the first person to make that claim.
Meanwhile, Alex Ovechkin thinks Semin will play like he has something to prove. His teammates have been comfortable playing on the road (6-3-1 road record), and the players who were expected to score, like brothers Eric Staal and Jordan Staal (19 and 15 points, respectively) have been getting help from Jiri Tlusty, who has all seven of his goals in Carolina’s last eight games.
Braden Holtby is expected to get the call to stop them, fresh off signing a new two-year contract. This would be the eighth straight start for Holtby, who has gone 4-3 since his last rest.
Brouwer has earned the right to speak his mind by scoring five goals in his last six games. The Washington power play has also remained hot, cashing in four times in two games against the New Jersey Devils last week.
The Caps and Hurricanes will see each other four more times before the end of the season, and a Washington win could mean they are closer together in the standings when they do. Whether either squad looks anything like its ideal lineup for those later meetings remains to be seen.
Carolina Hurricanes vs. Washington Capitals
Start time: 7 pm EST
TV: Comcast SportsNet DC (Capitals), Fox Sports Carolinas (Hurricanes)