Season series: Second of six meetings this season between teams at opposite ends of the Southeast Division standings. Nicklas Backstrom scored a pair of goals and Jose Theodore stopped 38 shots as Washington won 3-2 in Carolina on Nov. 30.
Big story: That first matchup will be remembered less for the final score than a play that took place midway through the first period when Alex Ovechkin collided with Tim Gleason. Both players appeared to be hurt on the play – Ovechkin in particular lay writhing on the ice. Gleason would return to the game, Ovechkin would not, due to a five-minute major and game misconduct he received for the knee-on-knee hit. He served a two-game suspension before returning to the lineup Monday against Tampa Bay. In another painful moment, the Hurricanes lost defenseman Joe Corvo to a laceration to his leg; he underwent surgery and is expected to miss several months.
Hurricanes: The positives are beginning to become more evident for Carolina. On Monday, the Hurricanes finally earned their first road win of the season, doing it in Pittsburgh no less against the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins. Their bid for another one failed in New Jersey on Wednesday with a 4-2 loss to the Devils, but goalie Cam Ward returned from a leg laceration of his own that cost him 13 games and played a solid game.
"I felt a little bit uncomfortable at times in the first period, but as the game went along I thought I settled down and played better in the second and the third," Ward said. "By the end of the game, I felt like my normal self."
Capitals: In spite of being shut out Wednesday by Ryan Miller and Buffalo, Washington sits atop the Eastern Conference with 44 points. The Capitals have shown great depth, continuing to win games and score goals even when Ovechkin has missed games due to an upper-body injury suffered earlier in the season or his recent suspension. Getting blanked by the Sabres appears to be a blip on the radar screen, especially at the hands of a goalie having the caliber of season Miller has.
"They just played solidly defensively," Ovechkin said. "But I think we didn't play our game, at all. We didn't get the puck in deep, and we didn't control the offensive blue line. I had a couple of chances, especially in the first period, but I just missed the puck and missed the net. It happens."
Who's hot: Carolina forward Ray Whitney had two goals and five points in the two games leading up to Wednesday night. Eric Staal has just three goals this season, but he had three straight two-assist efforts until he was also held scoreless in New Jersey.
Miller is one of the few goalies to hold Ovechkin off the scoresheet this season – he has 20 goals in the 23 games he's played, including two against Tampa on Monday. Eric Fehr had a seven-game points streak (five goals, five assists) snapped for Washington.
Injury report: In addition to Corvo, the Hurricanes were without defenseman Niclas Wallin against the Devils due to an upper-body injury. He remains day-to-day.
The Capitals' list of injuries is a bit more significant. Goalie Semyon Varlamov strained his groin and is doubtful to play Friday. Already out are forwards Mike Knuble (broken finger), Boyd Gordon (back) and Quintin Laing (broken jaw). Defenseman Brian Pothier is questionable for undisclosed reasons.
Stat pack: Ward is 1-2-1 with a 3.19 goals-against average in his last four starts in Washington. With his return, Manny Legace served as the backup Wednesday and Michael Leighton was a scratch. Legace went 4-4-2 with a 3.08 GAA in Ward's absence, while Leighton is 1-4-0 with a 4.29 GAA this season.
Puck drop: "It's a mentality," Ward said about how the Hurricanes must play moving forward. "We've got to refuse to give up on our season and continue to strive to do better."