Jan. 3 vs. Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 106.7 FAN
Washington Capitals 27-9-5
Carolina Hurricanes 24-14-2
The Caps embark upon the 2020 portion of the 2019-20 regular season and the second half of that campaign on Friday night in Raleigh, when they take on the Hurricanes at PNC Arena for the second time in less than a week. The Caps were here last Saturday night, when they absorbed a 6-4 loss from the Canes.
That loss last Saturday coupled with a 4-3 loss to the New York Islanders on New Year's Eve afternoon has the Caps in unfamiliar territory heading into Friday's game; they have lost consecutive regulation games for the first time this season. Washington dropped just two games in regulation in the entire month of October (9-2-3) and two in November (10-2-2) before turning in an 8-5-0 mark in December. The Caps started the last month of the decade by going 7-2-0 in their first nine, but they dropped three of four at month's end.
The Caps have yet to defeat Carolina this season; they let a 2-0 third-period lead slip away in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Canes on Oct. 5 in Washington's home opener, and lost last weekend in a game in which they never led.
"We did we did some things in practice [Thursday] that I think will help us," says Caps defenseman Radko Gudas. "You know they're obviously a team that dumps the puck a lot. They want to get on the forecheck right away, and they're playing the body right away, and that's something that we need to address and make some smarter plays on our breakouts - maybe be faster, get the puck and maybe get the pucks out of our zone early to not let them forecheck as they want. That'll be the main thing for us I think, for the [defense] corps."
In last Saturday's loss to the Canes in Carolina, the Caps were without defenseman Michal Kempny and they lost blueliner Christian Djoos after the first period, forcing them to play with five defensemen the rest of the way, and doing so while playing for the second time in as many nights. Most notably though, the Caps were also without right wing Tom Wilson (lower body) for that game, the first game in which Wilson was not in the Washington lineup in more than a year.
Both Kempny and Wilson returned for Tuesday's loss against the Islanders and both are expected to play in Friday's game.
"It's a tough building to play in; it always has been for a number of different reasons," says Wilson. "So emotionally we've got to be into it, which I think we will be. There's definitely a bit of a rivalry starting with them. We know they're going to be coming hard, and they play a simple, hard game. They're going to work hard, they're going to put pucks to the net, and they've got some skill to go with it.
"So we've got to execute our game plan. We're confident that if we do that, we'll be all right, but we have got to be clean out of our own end. When teams throw pucks to the net, and they're buzzing around, you need to battle for the guy next to you, win your battle, move the puck forward, and get it to the offensive zone."
Washington is a very ordinary 5-5-1 against Metropolitan Division opponents this season, and Friday's game finishes a stretch of four straight games against Metro foes. The Caps started out 4-0-1 in their first five divisional games this season, but they've dropped five of seven (2-5-0) since.
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"Whenever you talk about [games within] your division, the first thing you can go into is it's a four-point swing," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "It's not something I point out every game at the time we play a certain divisional opponent. For me, the importance is on our game - whoever it's against - and trying to improve in certain areas and get better, that's what it's about.
"But now that we're going to have more consistent Metro opponents here moving forward, then it gives you a chance to do some different things, too. And now that our game has gotten more solidified for some of the five, six new guys we've had in the lineup, that they understand what's expected out of our systems, now we can start to take some other systematic stuff to another level, like the next time you see an opponent, showing them something different off a certain face-off or whatever. So those are things we can start to add, and it's one of the things I like about playing teams repeatedly."
When the Caps met Carolina last weekend, the Canes were lugging a three-game losing streak in which they had surrendered 17 goals. Carolina comes into Friday's game with consecutive wins under its belt, last Saturday's triumph over Washington and a 3-1 victory over Montreal on Monday night.
Those two victories came in the first two games of Carolina's season-high seven-game homestand, a run that continues through Jan. 11, concluding with home games on back-to-back nights against Arizona and Los Angeles, respectively. The Canes' next road game is a Jan. 13 contest in Washington against the Caps, the final meeting between the two teams this season.
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