Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Preview: Washington Capitals vs. Carolina Hurricanes

 

Tonight, the Washington Capitals kick off the month of December by taking on the visiting Carolina Hurricanes in a Metropolitan Division clash. The two teams were previously competitors in the Southeast Division, and the rivalry will continue in their second meeting of the season, fueled by the Hurricanes’ need to climb the standings. Though the Caps’ 30 points have allowed them to claim second in the Metro (the New York Rangers trail by two points), the Canes are only five points behind in the standings with 25.

Washington has won its past two games by a narrow margin, with both wins coming against the Montreal Canadiens and New York Islanders in a shootout and overtime, respectively. The Capitals expressed that they were pleased with the majority of their performance in the two games, which followed a four-game losing streak.

On the other hand, the Hurricanes have dropped their past two contests, surrendering two points in a rout at the hands of the much-improved New Jersey Devils in their last game of November. Their next loss was a messy one and took place on Dec. 1, ending in favor of the defensively-minded Vancouver Canucks. The Canes’ inability to score on the power play has them ranked 27th in the NHL. Their penalty kill hasn’t fared much better, with an efficiency rate of 79.4% (good for 20th.)

Similarly, the effectiveness of the Caps’ special teams has been diminished as of late, though they had limited opportunities to demonstrate otherwise against the Islanders. As a whole, the Capitals have been seeing more success, which might be attributed in part to the line changes Coach Adam Oates has instituted.

With Brooks Laich set to miss a third straight game due to a recurring groin-related injury, Oates has kept his lines the same. The top line of Marcus Johansson, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alex Ovechkin played a stellar game in New York, as they generated numerous quality scoring chances and played tight defense.

Eric Fehr remains on the second line with Mikhail Grabovski and Troy Brouwer. Though Grabovski’s tenure on the third line helped Jason Chimera and Joel Ward to additional success, his place may be with his current linemates. Combined, Laich and Brouwer were leading the second line to disappointing results. It’s unknown where the former will fit in the lineup upon return, but Fehr, Brouwer, and Grabovski should continue to deliver as their chemistry keeps developing.

After enduring a multitude of healthy scratches, Jay Beagle will suit up once again. He’ll play with Chimera and Ward. Beagle’s strong defensive game and tendency to pass, not shoot, should be an asset to his speedy linemates, particularly Ward.

The fourth line is looking to continue their strong play, which resulted in Aaron Volpatti’s second goal of the season. His wrister kicked off scoring against the Islanders, with Tom Wilson and the ever-disgruntled Martin Erat notching assists. Erat will remain in tonight’s lineup as the Capitals continue their struggle to find a place for him–before he’s traded, at least.

In terms of defense, Dmitry Orlov is still paired with Tyson Strachan. Following the Caps’ last game, the general consensus was that Orlov’s performance topped Alex Urbom’s. Orlov will likely play his second game tonight, as he and his fellow blueliners aim to shut down Eric Staal. Staal leads the Hurricanes with 6 goals and 13 assists. Carolina isn’t known as an offensive powerhouse, even with last season’s addition of former Capital Alex Semin. However, they have a strong goaltender in Justin Peters, whose current save percentage is .920. Historically, Peters has performed well against Washington.

With a competent goaltender intent on deterring them, allowing fewer shots must be a priority for the Washington Capitals. Playing catch-up is no easy task, as we saw on Saturday. However, another shorthanded goal or two would be welcomed, but it shouldn’t come in the name of forcing overtime.

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