The last time the Carolina Hurricanes visited Verizon Center, the Washington Capitals pretty much had everything go their way in a 3-0 win. When they kick off the second half of the 2013 season on Tuesday night, the Caps desperately need a game like that again.
That it doesn’t necessarily feel like that will happen is a sign of how much things have changed in the two weeks since that first meeting. Carolina has distanced itself from most of the Southeast division, leading Winnipeg by only three points but Washington and everyone else by at least eight.
The Hurricanes have also shown resilience, going 2-1 since losing ace goaltender Cam Ward. They’ve done it by getting plenty of scoring, especially from Jiri Tlusty, who leads the team with 13 goals and has netted six in his last six games. Former Capital Alexander Semin has also continued his somewhat surprising turn as playmaker, racking up 19 assists so far–which would tie him with Mike Ribeiro for first on the team if he was still in Washington. Carolina also recently got Jeff Skinner back from injury, adding to its number of offensive threats.
Meanwhile, the Caps have gone in the wrong direction during their sweep at the hands of the New York teams over the weekend. Both losses were marked by costly penalties by players who should know better, namely captain Alex Ovechkin and Ribeiro. Neither man recorded a point in either game, and it’s probably an understatement to say that they need to get back on track immediately.
Braden Holtby should be back in the Washington crease after getting pulled on Sunday. He’s won three of his last four starts, but the defense in front of him will definitely be without Mike Green and probably missing John Erskine as well. One bright note on the injury front is that Brooks Laich tweeted that he could begin skating with the team, but his return date is still unknown.
Troy Brouwer was recently quoted saying that if the team plays the same way it has for the last 12 to 15 games, it would be in the mix for a playoff spot. But the reality is that the Caps are 7-5 in their last 12 and 8-7 over their last 15, and that’s simply not going to get it done. The schedule may say that there is half a season to play, but the reality is that the team is running out of time to turn 2013 into something positive.
The Capitals also get the Hurricanes on Thursday in Raleigh. That makes these two games a big opportunity to gain some ground on the Southeast leaders. Two wins make it a race, albeit a three-way one with the Jets. Two losses and Washington can kiss any thoughts of a division title goodbye.
Yep, it’s crunch time for sure.
Carolina Hurricanes at Washington Capitals
Start time: 7 pm
TV: Comcast SportsNet Washington (Capitals), Fox Sports Carolinas (Hurricanes)