The Capitals face their first Metropolitan Division opponent of the new season Thursday night when they host the Carolina Hurricanes at Verizon Center.
The Hurricanes (1-1-1) are coming off a 5-2 loss in Pittsburgh Tuesday night. It wasn’t just any defeat, but one fueled by a hat trick from former Hurricane Jussi Jokinen, who is still receiving $900,000 of his $3 million salary this season from Carolina.
In a year highlighted by change, from the new divisions to facing every Western Conference team twice, there is plenty of familiarity to be found in the Hurricanes. This is largely the same Carolina team that looked like it would win the Southeast crown last season, until it lost goaltender Cam Ward to a sprained MCL.
Their success this season, even with an improved backup net minder in Anton Khudobin, likely rests heavily on the health of Ward and the performance of its defense. With Joni Pitkanen (heel) out for the season and Tim Gleason (concussion) sidelined indefinitely, the Hurricanes blueline is leaning on youngsters like Justin Faulk and Ryan Murphy along with veteran offseason additions Andrej Sekera and Ron Hainsey.
Keep in mind that Carolina’s top line of Jiri Tlusti, Alexander Semin and Eric Staal, who has 24 goals and 61 points in 59 career games against the Capitals, has yet to find a groove this season and has just one point between them.
Here’s the projected Hurricanes lineup. Carolina Coach Kirk Muller said Wednesday he had not determined whether Ward or Khudobin would get the start against the Capitals.
Jiri Tlusty-Eric Staal-Alexander Semin
Nathan Gerbe-Jordan Staal-Patrick Dwyer
Jeff Skinner-Riley Nash-Radek Dvorak
Drayson Bowman-Elias Lindholm-Brett Sutter
Andrej Sekera-Justin Faulk
Jay Harrison-Ryan Murphy
Ron Hainsey-Brett Bellemore
Goal: Cam Ward, Anton Khudobin