Longtime caps radio voice and Foster Hewitt Award recipient Ron Weber approached me in the press box last week to point out a rather obscure but interesting and amazing fact, and when the Caps host the Hurricanes on Monday night at Verizon Center, that fact could come to full fruition.
Weber pointed out that the high water mark for the 1974-75 Capitals team was 1-2-1, and that happened after the team earned its first ever win over Chicago in the fourth game of its existence on Oct. 17, 1974. Washington went on to post an 8-67-5 record in that grim first season, and the Capitals finished with losing records for the first eight seasons of their NHL life.
It has taken decades to overcome that ignominious start, but on Monday the Caps have the opportunity to reach "franchise .500" for the first time in the club's 42-year existence. Washington enters Monday's game with a record of 1,502 wins, 1,370 regulation losses, 133 overtime/shootout losses, and 303 ties in their 3,308 franchise games to date. In short, that could be written 1,502-1,503-303. A victory over the Hurricanes makes Washington even up, all time.
It's only taken a little more than four decades.
As the estimable Carter Myers points out, the franchise had 212 more losses than wins at the conclusion of its eighth season in the league (1981-82), lending some context to the depth of the hole from which they've been digging out of over these last 34 years. The Caps were 163-375-102 after their eighth season.
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Getting Better - Virtually to a man, the Capitals talk all season about getting better and building their game, often citing specific areas in need of some shoring up. With the team on an 11-0-2 roll in its last 13 and an 18-2-4 run in its last 24 games, there haven't been too many weak areas in need of work.
"We haven't had a lot of practice time," notes Caps coach Barry Trotz. "We've given up a few more goals. We had a stretch there where we didn't give up any. And lately [we've given up] two or three, but we're fortunate that we're getting four, five and six. I think that's an area that's slipping for us, and that can be corrected with practice."
For the first time this season, the Capitals have surrendered three or more goals in three consecutive games. But since they've also fired home 18 goals of their own during that three-game span, they've posted a 2-0-1 mark over that stretch.
"We correct things in practice," says Trotz. "But that's an area that we can probably clean up a little bit."
Trotz has also mentioned the team's four-on-four play and its forecheck as other areas that could use a little attention whenever the Caps are able to put in some serious practice time once again.
Video: Carlson and Beagle on their matchup with Carolina
The 74 Car - Caps defenseman John Carlson missed each of the three games on the team's just completed road trip with a lower body injury, and he won't play on Monday against Carolina or on Tuesday in Ottawa, according to Trotz.
With the NHL's All-Star break looming ahead this weekend, it may make sense just to adapt a more cautionary stance and hold Carlson out until next week when the Caps get back in action.
"He is progressing pretty well," says Trotz of Carlson. "But probably at this point, just because of lack or practice time, we're probably going to hold him out until the All-Star break, juts because we're not going to have any ice time. He is progressing and that. He is doing well; you obviously saw him out here today.
Video: Coach Trotz on Monday's #CapsCanes matchup
"He's not going to play in these two games. There is a slight possibility for New Jersey [on Thursday], but I'd probably say that I don't expect that."
Washington is in the midst of a grueling stretch of schedule that doesn't allow for much practice time. The Caps practiced at Kettler last Wednesday before departing for St. Louis, but their next scheduled practice after that is next Monday afternoon prior to departure for Brooklyn where they'll face the Islanders on Tuesday.
"It's feeling better, and I just keep looking for progress," says Carlson. "That's the goal and we'll see where that takes us."
In The Nets - With the Capitals starting a set of back-to-back games tonight, the team will split the goaltending chores. Braden Holtby gets the net tonight against the Hurricanes at Verizon Center while Philipp Grubauer will start on Tuesday against the Senators in Ottawa.
Holtby is 22-8-4 on the season with six shutouts, a 1.99 GAA and a .929 save pct. On home ice in 2016-17, Holtby is 14-5-1 with five shutouts, a 1.72 GAA and a .933 save pct. In 13 career appearances against the Hurricanes, he is 9-4-0 with a shutout, a 1.90 GAA and a .943 save pct.
Holtby won his last start on Thursday in St. Louis against the Blues, moving into a tie for 100th on the league's all-time wins list with Byron Dafoe and Roy Worters, each of whom has 171 career victories.
For Carolina, we expect to see veteran workhorse Cam Ward in goal. He would be making his 40th appearance of the season; he enters Monday's game tied for fourth in the league in games played among netminders.
Seeking his first 30-win campaign since 2011-12, Ward is 18-14-6 with two shutouts, a 2.54 GAA and a .909 save pct. thus far in 2016-17. Lifetime against Washington, Ward is 17-15-5 with four shutouts, a 2.59 GAA and a .917 save pct. Ward has won only five of 20 (5-10-5) road appearances this season.
All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Capitals and the Canes to look tonight when they take to the ice at Verizon Center:
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
90-Johansson, 92-Kuznetsov, 14-Williams
10-Connolly, 20-Eller, 65-Burakovsky
26-Winnik, 83-Beagle, 43-Wilson
74-Carlson (lower body, day-to-day)
53-Skinner, 49-Rask, 8-Rattie
20-Aho, 11-Staal, 16-Lindholm
23-McGinn, 33-Ryan, 21-Stempniak
42-Nordstrom, 86-Teravainen, 25-Stalberg
29-Bickell (multiple sclerosis)