Short-handed Capitals Try to Keep Winning Tonight at Carolina

The Capitals' Brent Johnson, shown thwarting the Rangers' Chris Drury on Saturday, is 3-0-1 in his past four games.
The Capitals' Brent Johnson, shown thwarting the Rangers' Chris Drury on Saturday, is 3-0-1 in his past four games. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
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By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Washington Capitals have won their past two games without veterans Shaone Morrisonn and Sergei Fedorov, and if they want to take sole possession of first place in the Southeast Division tonight, they'll have to do it again.

Morrisonn and Fedorov, both of whom suffered injuries last Thursday against Carolina, are not expected to be in the lineup when the division rivals meet for the second time in a week at RBC Center.

Morrisonn and Fedorov skated on their own yesterday -- practice was called off -- but they did not accompany the Capitals to Raleigh, N.C. Morrisonn has a groin muscle pull; Fedorov's injury has not been disclosed by the team but he was seen limping to the locker room after getting hurt. Team officials were hopeful earlier this week that one or both would be ready.

During their absence, the Capitals defeated the New York Rangers on Saturday and Tampa Bay on Monday to extend the winning streak to three games, matching a season high and moving them into a tie with Carolina atop the division (18 points). The rivals finished 1-2 last spring and have claimed six of nine titles since the division's inception.

The common thread in the Capitals' recent run has been the strong play of goaltender Brent Johnson, who is 3-0-1 with a .951 save percentage and 1.72 goals against average in the past four games. Since Coach Bruce Boudreau took over last November, Johnson is 10-3-3 with a 2.22 goals against average and a .927 save percentage.

"I think it's confidence," Boudreau said, referring to Johnson. "He's in the last year of his deal. He loves the area. He loves being a Capital. He knows he's got a great chance and a great opportunity. A new guy has come in, and granted, he's probably going to be the number one guy when it's all said and done."

Boudreau stopped short of naming Johnson tonight's starter, though all indications are that he will make his fifth straight appearance. Johnson made 32 stops in the teams' most recent meeting, a 3-2 Capitals victory sparked by Alexander Semin's pair of goals in the final 2 minutes 43 seconds.

If Johnson starts, he'll face a Hurricanes team that has scored two goals in each of the past three games, a slump underscored by Eric Staal's drought (zero points in the past four games).

"It's so much easier to go out there when you know you've got the confidence and keep going," Johnson said. "Right now it's feeling that way for me. The past few seasons here it's been tough to get into a rhythm here when you play once every five games. Bruce has given me a little bit of a chance."

Boudreau seems intent on sticking with Johnson. For now, at least. The coach said he's also mindful that José Theodore (3.44 goals against average, .877 save percentage) must play if he's going to turn around his season.

"I want to get José back in there, but it's tough to take [Johnson] out when he's playing that well," Boudreau said. "It's not that Theo has been bad, he's been inconsistent. We have all the faith in the world that he's going to turn out."

Capitals Notes: Right wing Viktor Kozlov, who sat out Monday's game, skated yesterday and might play tonight, Boudreau said. The team hasn't disclosed his injury, but the veteran missed four games last month with a sprained knee and still wears a brace. If Kozlov plays, Boudreau will have to scratch a forward, which will be a difficult decision because the three most likely candidates -- David Steckel, Boyd Gordon and Eric Fehr -- have played well. . . .

Semin's 15 goals against Carolina are the most he's scored against any opponent. He also leads the league in plus-minus rating at plus-13, a year after finishing minus-18.

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