Carolina comes in hot, fresh from rolling up a 5-2-0 mark during a seven-game homestand, with the only losses coming to Washington and Tampa Bay. The Caps own a share of the league's best record with Boston and St. Louis, and Tampa Bay had its 10-game winning streak snapped in New Jersey on Sunday night. The Canes won each of the last two games of their homestand via the shutout route, so they enter tonight's game with a shutout streak of 124 minutes and 11 seconds in duration.
And then there's the matter of Mondays. The Caps don't like Mondays. (Tell me why!)
Washington has suffered only 11 regulation losses on the season, but four of them have come on Mondays, including a few of their uglier setbacks: A 6-3 defeat to Colorado on Oct. 14, a 5-2 loss to Columbus on Dec. 9 and a 3-0 whitewashing from the Jackets on the road a week later, and a 7-3 stomping from the Bruins in Boston on Dec. 23. Even the Mondays in which the Caps managed to earn points weren't without cost.
Washington had to rally from a 3-0 hole in its 4-3 shootout loss to Arizona on Nov. 11, and T.J. Oshie's would-be game-winner in overtime overturned because the Caps were off-side on the play. A week later, on Nov. 18, the Caps earned a 4-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks. But they lost Garnet Hathaway to a three-game suspension in the aftermath of a wild brawl that night.
Six Monday games, a 1-4-1 mark (they're 29-7-4 on all the other days of the week), and they've been outscored 26-15 in the six Monday matches. They'll look to turn that trend around tonight against Carolina.
Kool Whip - Caps right wing Tom Wilson plays in his 500th career NHL game tonight against Carolina. At 25 years and 290 days, Wilson becomes the third youngest player - and the youngest forward - in franchise history to achieve the milestone, trailing only Scott Stevens (24 years, 264 days) and Kevin Hatcher (25 years, 139 days).
Wilson actually played in the NHL before accruing the first of those 500 games, which are limited to regular season games. He made his NHL debut in the Stanley Cup playoffs, jumping into the lineup for Game 5 of Washington's first-round series with the New York Rangers on May 10, 2013, before he had even played in as much as a preseason game at the NHL level.
At the time, Wilson was a month and a half beyond his 19th birthday.
"It's pretty crazy," says Wilson of debuting in the postseason as a teenager. "Obviously everything is intensified, and it's a pretty emotional game at that point in the year. You come in, and it's a bit of a whirlwind. Thinking back on it, I actually don't remember too much about the game. It was definitely a blur, just pretty exciting. I think [Mike Ribiero] scored the overtime winner against the Rangers.
"But it's such a cool feeling to play in your first NHL game, and to play it in an atmosphere like that was awesome. I'll never forget that."
Wilson played in the first of those 500 games some five months later, when Washington opened up the 2013-14 season in Chicago against the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks. Wilson was one of three players making their NHL debuts for the Caps that night, along with Connor Carrick and Wilson's former roommate, Michael Latta. Wilson and Carrick were both teenagers at the time of their debuts.
Over his first four seasons in the league, Wilson totaled 21 goals and 69 points in 313 games, playing mostly bottom six minutes and killing penalties. Four years into his career, Wilson was averaging 11:11 in ice time per night.
In two and a half seasons since then, he has racked up 49 goals and 105 points in just 186 games, while becoming a top six regular who averages better than 18 minutes per night.
"I think early on in my career, some advice just to try to be noticed and try to have an effect on every game. When I came into the league, I just wanted to do my role as well as I could, and stay in the lineup every game. That was a focus, and just having attention to detail and do the little things right.
"From there, you grow as a person and as a player, and you get more responsibility throughout those years, and you just try and take advantage of it. Anytime I got to go up and play with Nicky or Ovi or Kuz, I just tried to play my game and complement them as well as I could.
"It's been a great journey. I've played with a bunch of different players. I think the biggest thing is just being fortunate to come into such a great group. Right from day one, I felt extremely comfortable and it was a great group of guys that welcomed me here. It allowed me to never look back and to just keep playing hockey."
In his 498th career game on Saturday night against New Jersey, Wilson surpassed the 1,000 career penalty minutes plateau. In the process, he passed Hatcher for sixth place on Washington's all-time list. But with 1,001 career penalty minutes now, he is still not halfway to all-time franchise leader Dale Hunter (2,003), though he could be by night's end.
In The Nets - Ilya Samsonov starts for the Caps on Monday against Carolina, seeking his eighth straight victory. If he gets it, he will match a franchise record for consecutive victories by a rookie netminder that has stood for more than three decades, since Bob Mason put together an 8-0-0 run from Dec. 2, 1984 to Jan. 17, 1985.
In his first seven starts of this, his rookie season in the NHL, the 22-year-old Samsonov yielded two or fewer goals in three of seven. In his last seven starts, he has permitted two or fewer goals in five of the seven.
On Jan. 3 in Raleigh, Samsonov made a single-game career high of 38 saves to help the Capitals to a 4-3 win over the Canes. During the life of his current seven-game winning streak, Samsonov has fashioned a 1.83 GAA and a .932 save pct. He is the only goaltender in the league with as many as 16 games played and fewer than three regulation losses.
The Canes come into town on the heels of a pair of shutouts in a set of weekend back-to-backs at home against Arizona and Los Angeles, respectively, and both of their goaltenders earned one of those shutouts. It's the second time in Hartford-Carolina franchise history that it has had shutouts on back-to-back nights, and the first time it was achieved with two different netminders, Petr Mrazek against Arizona and James Reimer against Los Angeles.
Carolina leads the NHL with six shutouts, and both goalies have recorded three whitewashes, marking the first time in franchise history that the team has had two goaltenders with as many as three shutouts in a season.
Reimer started and beat the Caps here on Oct. 5 in Washington's home opener, and Mrazek started both recent games against the Caps in Carolina. Tonight, the Canes will go with Mrazek. Lifetime against the Capitals, he is 4-6-2 with a shutout, a 2.77 GAA and a .908 save pct.
All Lined Up - Here is a look at how we expect the Capitals and the Canes to lineup on Monday night when they meet for the fourth and final this season:
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 43-Wilson
13-Vrana, 92-Kuznetsov, 77-Oshie
62-Hagelin, 20-Eller, 14-Panik
28-Leipsic, 26-Dowd, 21-Hathaway
21-Niederreiter, 20-Aho, 86-Teravainen
37-Svechnikov, 11-Staal, 13-Foegele
18-Dzingel, 56-Haula, 88-Necas
23-McGinn, 71-Wallmark, 48-Martinook
6-Edmundson, 57-van Riemsdyk