The Capitals’ game against Carolina tonight at Verizon Center is one they undoubtedly need to win. While the Hurricanes sit in 14th place in the Eastern Conference with 62 points, recent history illustrates that this will not be an easy night for Washington.
Washington enters this contest on a 120-minute scoring drought, having been shut out in consecutive games for the first time since the 2006-07 season. The team also is riding a lengthy scoreless streak — 138 minutes 48 seconds long to be exact — against the Hurricanes specifically.
The Capitals haven’t scored against Carolina since Dmitry Orlov’s goal in the third period of a 2-1 win on Jan. 15. Since then, the Hurricanes have captured a pair of wins over Washington: a 3-0 victory with Cam Ward in net on Jan. 20 and a 5-0 rout on Feb. 20 with Justin Peters earning his first ever NHL shutout in the contest. Carolina heavily outshot them in both contests.
Asked if that most recent defeat on Feb. 20 offered a little extra incentive to play well against the Hurricanes, Matt Hendricks replied: ”Oh, I don’t know. I try not to even think about that one.”
On Monday, Coach Dale Hunter said he needed to focus on ensuring that the Capitals would be prepared to play Carolina and not suffer a letdown after their emotional game against Philadelphia on Sunday.
“I’ve got to worry about — ‘cause you play the Flyers, ‘cause it’s such a rival, you get up so high,” Hunter said. “Now I’ve got to get these guys to be ready for a game [Tuesday] because it’s a big two points for us.”
With only 17 games remaining, each of the Capitals’ outings are significant and they head into this one in ninth place in the East with 69 points. They’re three behind the eighth-place Winnipeg Jets but have two games in hand, including the tilt with the Hurricanes.
“You’ve got to take advantage of them,” Hunter said of having played fewer games than Winnipeg. “If you don’t, them games in hand don’t help at all.”
Meanwhile, surging Tampa Bay is in 10th place, just one point behind the Capitals with 68, and hosts the Ottawa Senators Tuesday. Eleventh-place Buffalo is also one point behind, while Toronto, which faces Boston on Tuesday, sits in 12th with 67 points.
The Hurricanes have rarely been an easy foe for Washington to face this season. Now that captain Eric Staal had found his offense, it makes it that much tougher. Over the course of his career Staal has put up 55 points (24 goals, 31 assists) in 53 appearances against the Capitals
Entering this meeting, Staal has recorded a point in 13 of the past 14 games. During that stretch Staal has eight goals and 14 assists.
“He uses his teammates really well,” Karl Alzner said when asked what makes Staal a tough player to shut down. “It doesn’t always have to be him that does it. He doesn’t care if it’s a two-on-one and he’s going to drag the defenseman to him just to give it to the other guy.
“He’s going to do whatever it takes to get that point,” Alzner continued, “And it’s something that is really deadly because you focus on him, because he’s their number one guy and he’s going to dish it off to [Tuomo] Ruutu or someone and he doesn’t care about it.”
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