CAPITALS (20-12-5) at HURRICANES (15-14-4)
TV -- CSN-DC+ (HD), FS-CR (HD)
Last 10 -- Washington 2-5-3; Carolina 5-4-1
Season series -- This is the fourth of six meetings between the teams this season. In their last meeting on Nov. 28, the Canes overcame an early 2-0 deficit, with captain Eric Staal scoring the tying goal with three seconds remaining in regulation. But Alex Ovechkin scored the only goal in the shootout, securing a 3-2 win for the Caps, who have won every game this season between the two teams.
Big Story -- After ending an eight-game skid with back-to-back wins, the Capitals suffered a 3-2 shootout loss on Thursday to Pittsburgh in a prelude to their much-anticipated meeting in the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. The Canes' recent five-game win streak ended with losses to the Lightning and Canadiens. The latter loss saw goaltender Cam Ward play in his 300th career game.
Capitals -- Despite the shootout loss to Pittsburgh, the Capitals showed some grit in coming back from a pair of one-goal deficits, with Mike Knuble’s shorthanded marker in the third period tying the game 2-2.
"If they can play like that every night, I'll be happy," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "They had passion. We played, arguably right now -- two losses in 20 games -- the best team in the League. I thought we played them to a standstill."
While the Caps got Mike Green's first goal in 15 games, two of Washington's other marquee talents, Ovechkin and Alexander Semin, are still looking to regain their scoring touch. The two star forwards have gone without a goal in eight games and nine games respectively.
Hurricanes -- After dealing with a rash on his forehead, Ward returned to the Canes' lineup on Thursday against the Canadiens, his first game since making a combined 88 saves in back-to-back wins over Atlanta and Anaheim. In the second period against Montreal, Erik Cole took a five-minute major just nine seconds after giving the Canes a 2-1 lead. Montreal scored twice on the advantage, sealing a 3-2 win.
If there was a positive to take from the loss, it was Chad LaRose, whose shorthanded goal was his first point in 15 games. The goal even inspired Canes’ coach Paul Maurice to move LaRose to the team's top line alongside Staal and rookie Jeff Skinner.
Who's Hot -- With an assist against Pittsburgh, Brooks Laich is enjoying a three-game point streak. Caps rookie defenseman John Carlson has four points in his last five games. … With an assist on Thursday, Staal has 6 points in his last five games. Cole is now riding a three-game points streak.
Injury Report -- The Caps' infirmary has been busy of late. Forward Matt Hendricks and defenseman Tom Poti are questionable against Carolina, with Hendricks suffering from the same illness that has recently plagued Washington's locker room. Tyler Sloan (groin), DJ King (undisclosed), Jeff Schultz (thumb), Boyd Gordon (lower body), and Matt Bradley (finger) are all on IR. … With Ward now back, forward Jiri Tlusty (arm) is the only Canes player out with an injury.
Stat Pack -- If the Canes hope to climb up the Southeast-division standings, they'll have to improve their play against the three teams ahead of them. Against Tampa Bay, Washington, and Atlanta, the Canes are a combined 1-3-1 this season and have gone 2-for-19 with a man advantage.
Puck Drop -- With Washington's defense plagued by injuries and inexperience, recent acquisition Scott Hannan has risen to the forefront. The veteran defenseman played over 27 minutes against Pittsburgh, his most since coming to the Capitals in a trade with Colorado.
"That's why we got him," Boudreau said of Hannan. "To play like that."