Washington will be back here in Raleigh in less than a week; the Caps make a quick stop at home to host the New York Islanders in a Tuesday New Year's Eve matinee match and Washington then returns to Raleigh for a Friday night date with the Canes in Carolina. The Caps host Carolina on Jan. 13 in the finale of the season's series between the two Metropolitan Division rivals.
Both teams are playing for the second time in as many nights on Saturday in Raleigh. While the Caps were squeaking past Columbus in overtime by a 2-1 count, the Hurricanes were taking a 5-3 loss at the hands of the Rangers in New York.
Washington played Friday's game without defenseman Michal Kempny - who is still ill, didn't travel to Raleigh and won't play on Saturday - and with a diminished Radko Gudas, who is also dealing with illness issues.
The Caps did not conduct a morning skate on Saturday, but we are still not certain how the they will lineup when they take the ice in Raleigh. Washington has multiple players who may not be able to answer the bell tonight.
"There are going to be potentially some other roster moves going on before the game tonight," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "A bunch of stuff is game time, so we'll see. Whoever ends up on our bench, then I will use them."
Video: Reirden Pregame | December 28
Pressed a bit further, as to what sort of moves/decisions he was referring to, Reirden replied thusly:
"Just some guys who are game-time decisions, health-wise."
You'll note the use of the plural there.
The Caps did as well as they could in the front end of this set of back-to-backs to set themselves up for this one. They only took two penalties, but they did put a heavy workload on defensemen John Carlson (28:06) and Dmitry Orlov (26:36) with Kempny out and Gudas ailing.
"I think it was good," says Caps winger Carl Hagelin, who scored his first goal of the season on Friday against the Jackets. "There wasn't too much special teams [Friday]. Obviously, that 3-on-3 [overtime] we kind of controlled play, and it looked like they were a lot more tired than us, so I think we're looking forward to [Saturday's] game.
"It's a good challenge against a really good Carolina team in their barn, where they usually play well. But we should be well rested, obviously getting three days off before playing [on Friday]. I don't think anyone on our team got overtaxed [on Friday], so we should be ready to go."
Finally, the Caps are taking aim at an obscure franchise record tonight, aiming for a fourth straight sweep of back-to-back sets of games. Washington has managed that achievement just once in franchise history, and it happened 35 years ago when back-to-backs were more prevalent around the league and parity was not.
Washington is 5-1-1 on the front end of back-to-backs this season, and it is 5-0-1 on the back end, with those five victories coming consecutively.
Pushing The Right Buttons - Through the first 40 minutes of Friday's game against Columbus, the Caps managed some zone time and some scoring chances, but they weren't able to light the lamp. Shortly after a Washington power play failed to bear fruit early in the third, Reirden swapped out the centers on his middle two lines, to good effect.
He put Evgeny Kuznetsov between Hagelin and Richard Panik, and put Lars Eller in a familiar spot between Jakub Vrana and T.J. Oshie. Kuznetsov and company manufactured the game-tying tally on their first shift together. Both Kuznetsov and Vrana have now gone nine games without scoring, so it's a look we could see again tonight in Carolina.
"That was just something that at the time I felt like would be something that could give us a little bit of a spark," says Reirden. "Kuznetsov had just come off the power play, and obviously Eller goes on after, and I felt like Hagelin and Panik's game was coming. I thought they had a couple of good shifts in the third and I thought maybe just try something different with Kuznetsov, and they're able to force turnover. Richard makes great play as well, and they're able to convert so I stayed with that for a little bit.
"I'm always very comfortable with Eller, Oshie, and Vrana together. They seem to have some really good chemistry, and have in the past. Obviously, the goal was big for us to finally break the ice against [Korpisalo], and then I thought we started to string together some shifts, but in particular I thought Eller, Vrana and Oshie were good. So a little different look for us. Sometimes when you're struggling to get that first goal, you've got to try some things that are a little bit outside of the box."
In The Nets - Braden Holtby gets the start for Washington on Saturday night in Carolina. Holtby was pulled after the first period of his most recent start last Monday in Boston. The Bruins reached Holtby for four goals - two of them on the power play - on 11 shots in the first period of a 7-3 win over Washington, and he yielded to Ilya Samsonov for just the second time this season.
After Samsonov earned his fifth win in as many starts since mid-November in Friday's win over the Blue Jackets, Holtby gets the net back on Saturday against the Canes. Over the course of his NHL career, Holtby is 25-7-1 in starts following those in which he was pulled for performance reasons.
Lifetime against the Hurricanes, Holtby is 16-6-1 with two shutouts, a 2.02 GAA and a .935 save pct. in 23 career games.
Petr Mrazek is expected to get the start for Carolina. On the season, he is 14-8-2 with a 2.68 GAA and a .902 save pct. Lifetime against Washington, Mrazek is 3-5-2 with a shutout, a 2.52 GAA and a .917 save pct. in 10 appearances.
All Lined Up - Here is a look at how we expect the Capitals and the Hurricanes to lineup on Saturday night when they meet for the first time in almost three months:
Video: Two-Man Advatnage | December 28
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 43-Wilson
13-Vrana, 92-Kuznetsov, 77-Oshie
62-Hagelin, 20-Eller, 14-Panik
28-Leipsic, 26-Dowd, 21-Hathaway
37-Svechnikov, 11-Staal, 13-Foegele
21-Niederreiter, 20-Aho, 86-Teravainen
18-Dzingel, 56-Haula, 88-Necas
23-McGinn, 71-Wallmark, 48-Martinook
51-Gardiner, 57-van Riemsdyk