Each of the Caps' first eight games is against a playoff team from last season, and the Canes are the team that ended Washington's season, right here at Capital One Arena on April 24. Playing back-to-back games with travel is always a challenge in this league, so it doesn't hurt the Caps to come back to DC to play their home opener, and to do so against a division rival, the one that ended their season.
Those circumstances should help mitigate the Canes' freshness; they were in their Washington hotel rooms while the Caps were defeating the Islanders and returning home in the wee hours of Saturday morning.
"Hopefully that can help spur us on a little bit here," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "That's tough travel, especially playing against a team that didn't play last night. So things are lined up to not look favorably for our chances going into this game, and I think that hopefully our fans and the energy level of our players can take advantage of some of the things we've built on through our first two games, and use that. We've had really strong team efforts through our first two games, and we're going to need everybody tonight."
Love Me Two Times - Playing on the road against two formidable foes hosting their home openers, the Caps came home with four points. It's the first time in franchise history they find themselves in this situation, and they managed to pull it off despite playing without one of their top two centers (Evgeny Kuznetsov) and one of their top four defensemen (Michal Kempny).
"I think it was good," says Caps winger T.J. Oshie of the team's two-game road trip. "We've adjusted things a little bit to get more skating and less standing still and waiting for things to happen in our neutral zone. You can tell with our forecheck; with guys constantly moving and constantly pressuring, we can get in there quicker.
"Even when we had some turnovers or some other plays, we have three guys on the rush a lot more now than I feel like we have had in the past. It was a really good road win. When you get up on a team in their barn - especially opening night - you know they're going to keep coming. I think we did a good job of deterring them from any chances, and making them go 200 feet every time."
Leading Men - Playing the first of a set of back-to-back games on Friday night on Long Island, the Caps' Jakub Vrana scored the game's first goal midway through the first. New York tied the game two minutes later, but the Caps never trailed. Oshie's power-play goal late in the second proved to be the game-winner, and Washington played textbook road hockey in the third, continually stifling the Islanders' futile attempts to generate offense.
The Washington forecheck was consistent and tenacious, and the Caps' defense were quick and efficient at breaking pucks out of their zone.
"Our defense is probably the area that has seen the most change over the last couple of years," says Reirden, "and being without a couple of key leaders and older guys that have been here for a while, it's up to some new guys, whether it's [Radko] Gudas that we've added or it's young players stepping up in different roles. We have [Jonas] Siegenthaler playing with [John] Carlson, and obviously it hasn't been perfect. But there is a reason that the shot totals are down, and that's a five-man effort. But I thought that in particular, our defense is doing a strong job."
Because the Caps never trailed on Friday, Reirden was able to effectively manage the minutes of his top players, which should help his team be a bit fresher for the second of that back-to-back set, tonight against a rested Carolina club.
"Especially when you're going into back-to-backs," says Reirden, "I had to pull the minutes back from where they were the other night in St. Louis in an overtime game. We took [Thursday] as a rest day; most of the guys took optionals and just got a light flush, because we knew that going into back-to-backs that I can't overtax too many of our big guys.
"And you need to have four lines if you want to give yourself a chance to have success in the second game. And now we've got our starting goaltender in there [Saturday] for our home opener. I expect our crowd will give us a huge lift, and it should be an exciting night for us."
Point And Shoot - The Hurricanes' offensive zone philosophy involves a hard forecheck and throwing a lot of pucks toward the net from any and all angles. They use pressure to create chaos, and they feast on second opportunities at the net front.
Both of the Caps' first two foes this season are also good forechecking teams, but the Blues and Isles lean more toward quality than quantity when it comes to shooting the puck.
"For one, we've got to do a better job of breaking pucks out than we did against them last year," says Reirden. "And that involves some better hold-ups and everyone being an option coming out of the zone. We have a couple of other things systematically that will help us do that, so that's always important, to not spend too much time in your defensive zone.
"But they are a shot/recover team, no doubt about it, and they're one of the best in the league at it. If you look at analytic numbers, in terms of teams that generate pucks at the net and then recover them, they're right at the top. So it's important that not only do we pick up sticks around the net and box people out and play hard around then net, but we have to win that race to those loose pucks, because that's where they excel.
"So it's a team we're familiar with, it's a great challenge in the second of a back-to-back, and we're looking for some energy from our crowd and for our players to be ramped up to continue with the good hockey we've started the season with."
In The Nets - A night after Ilya Samsonov earned his first NHL victory, Braden Holtby gets the net back for Washington. Holtby stopped 20 of 22 shots he faced on opening night in a 3-2 overtime victory over the Blues in St. Louis. That victory was the 258th of Holtby's NHL career, tying him with Ken Dryden for 52nd place on the league's all-time ledger.
Lifetime against the Hurricanes, Holtby is 16-6-0 with a pair of shutouts, a 1.98 GAA and a .937 save pct.
Carolina is playing the first of back-to-backs tonight in Washington; the Canes head home to host Tampa Bay on Sunday. They're saving starter Petr Mrazek for the Lightning, and James Reimer will get the crease against the Caps on Saturday.
Reimer is making his first start as a member of the Hurricanes; he was traded to Carolina over the summer after spending the last three seasons with Florida. Lifetime against the Capitals, Reimer is 4-4-2 with a shutout, a 2.42 GAA and a .929 save pct.
All Lined Up - This is how we expect the Caps and the Hurricanes to look when they meet on Saturday night in the District for the first of four times this season:
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 43-Wilson
13-Vrana, 20-Eller, 77-Oshie
62-Hagelin, 18-Stephenson, 14-Panik
28-Leipsic, 26-Dowd, 21-Hathaway
6-Kempny (lower body)
21-Niederreiter, 20-Aho, 86-Teravainen
37-Svechnikov, 12-Staal, 23-McGinn
18-Dzingel, 56-Haula, 88-Necas
13-Foegele, 71-Wallmark, 48-Martinook
57-van Riemsdyk (upper body)