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Capitals begin the chase anew, open vs. Hurricanes

by Brian Hunter
HURRICANES (0-1-0) at CAPITALS (0-0-0)


Season Series:
First of six meetings this season between these Southeast Division rivals. Although the Capitals beat the Hurricanes five times in 2010-11 en route to winning their fourth straight division title, the games were extremely competitive. Four of Washington's victories came by a single goal, including one in a shootout. Carolina finally came out on top in the most recent matchup, which was also decided via the penalty-shot tiebreaker -- Jeff Skinner, who went on to win the Calder Trophy, netted the winner on March 29.

Big Story: While the Hurricanes work to make it back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after a two-year absence, the Capitals begin another season where the pressing question isn't whether they'll gain one of the eight Eastern Conference berths, but if they will finally make it past the second round and compete for the franchise's first championship. Washington has been a Presidents' Trophy winner and a No. 1 seed, but thanks to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Montreal and Tampa Bay, has suffered early exits in the past four postseasons.

Team Scope:

Hurricanes: Determined to get off to a good start and erase the bad taste of losing to Tampa Bay in the final game of the 2010-11 season with a playoff berth at stake, Carolina played solidly for the better part of two periods before shooting itself in the foot. Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk, in his first NHL game, was whistled for interference with 2:29 left in the second of a 1-1 game, and Jussi Jokinen picked up an unsportsmanlike penalty when his backhand swipe at the puck hit an official. Vincent Lecavalier scored 19 seconds into the ensuing 5-on-3 for the Lightning, who added two goals in 10 seconds midway through the third en route to handing the Canes a 5-1 loss.

"I said something to the referee," the veteran Jokinen said. "It's my fault. I have to keep my mouth shut. ... The referees do their job, and I need to do my job."

Capitals: One of the more intriguing battles of the preseason was to see who Washington's goaltender would be on opening night. After the Capitals traded Semyon Varlamov but then added veteran Tomas Vokoun through free agency, there were questions as to where the moves left Michal Neuvirth, the starter in last year's playoffs. While coach Bruce Boudreau has said he views Vokoun as his No. 1 goalie, an especially strong preseason by Neuvirth appears to have earned him the nod Saturday -- both he and Vokoun indicated to the Washington Post that Neuvirth would start.

"It feels pretty good. I'm pretty excited about the game tomorrow, we want to win on home ice," Neuvirth told the paper. "I was a little surprised, but I think I had a great training camp and very good preseason games and probably that's why I'm playing tomorrow."

Who's Hot:
Skinner put in 31 goals as a rookie and got his sophomore season off to a fast start with the Hurricanes' only score on Friday. … Neuvirth went 2-1-0 during the preseason while posting a 1.34 goals-against average and .949 save percentage for the Capitals.

Injury Report: Washington defensemen Tom Poti (groin) and John Erskine (shoulder) will begin the season on injured reserve. Defenseman Dennis Wideman (undisclosed) and forward Matt Hendricks (groin) are day-to-day.

Stat Pack:
Tuomo Ruutu was the Hurricanes' leading scorer in last season's series, posting 2 goals and 5 points. … Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom went through down years statistically, but Ovi still compiled 2 goals and 8 points while Backstrom had 4 goals to lead all scorers in the series.

Puck Drop:
The Verizon Center has been one of the toughest arenas in the NHL over the past several seasons for opponents to come away with points. Washington has won 84 home games since the start of the 2008-09 campaign, tied with San Jose for most in the League.

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