HURRICANES (24-27-14) at CAPITALS (32-28-5)
TV: FS-CR (HD), CSN-MA
Carolina 4-2-4; Washington 4-6-0
This is the sixth and final game between these Southeast Division clubs. The Caps are 3-2-0 in this season's series with the Canes and maintain a 4-0-1 record in their last five home games against Carolina.
The Capitals have been less than stellar over the last 20-plus games, with only one brief three-game winning streak, but the playoffs still remain within reach. As of Monday, Washington (69 points) sat just one point behind the East's eighth-place Winnipeg Jets, while remaining in contention for the Southeast Division title with only five points to gain on the division-leading Florida Panthers. The Hurricanes have struggled all season long, but will try to spoil their division rival's postseason hopes.
Carolina starts a five-game road trip Tuesday at Washington, following a 1-2-3 showing during its previous six-game homestand. The Canes will look to bounce back from a 4-3 overtime loss to Tampa Bay this past Saturday in which a penalty call the team deemed controversial was what ultimately did them in.
The Lightning's Steven Stamkos appeared to nudge center Brandon Sutter
into Lightning goalie Mathieu Garon during overtime and, although Sutter appeared to make a legitimate effort to avoid Garon, the Hurricanes were tagged with the two-minute roughing penalty. Stamkos would go on to seal it for Tampa Bay with his League-leading 47th goal.
"No question, I hit the goalie. I ran into him, and there was contact," Sutter told the Canes official web site after the game. "Like I said, I was clearly pushed into him."
While Washington managed to reach mid-January without getting shut out, it has been blanked five times out of the last 22 games since Jan. 17, including getting outscored by a combined 6-0 over its current two-game losing streak. The back-to-back losses to the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers marked the first time the Caps were blanked for two straight games since Mar. 6-9, 2007.
But the recent rough patch hasn't been a result of a lack of effort, as Washington outshot both the Devils and Flyers in those losses. Tuesday marks the fourth of a five-game homestand for the Caps, where they are just 0-2-1.
"If you're getting no chances, it makes a big difference," coach Dale Hunter told WashingtonCaps.com senior writer Mike Vogel after Sunday's 1-0 whitewashing by Philadelphia. "You get breakaways and 2-on-1s and slap shots from the slot. So you've just got to keep doing the same thing and hopefully they go in. You can't be frustrated."
Carolina captain Eric Staal
maintains the longest current point streak in the NHL with 7 goals and 13 assists gained over 11 straight games reaching the score sheet. … Caps captain Alex Ovechkin
had been heating up with a three-game point streak (2g, 2a) before Washington's two straight shutout defeats.
Carolina will be without forwards Patrick Dwyer
(lower body) and Tuomo Ruutu
(upper body), as well as defenseman Joni Pitkanen
(concussion/knee). … Capitals goalie Tomas Vokoun
(lower body) was practicing with the team on Monday, and Braden Holtby
was returned to AHL Hershey, indicating Vokoun will likely be available to at least dress for Tuesday's game. Forward Nicklas Backstrom
(concussion symptoms) and defenseman Tom Poti
(groin) remain out.
The back-and-forth rut that the Caps have found themselves in since mid-January can be attributed to their struggles on the power play. Washington is just 9-11-3 over its last 23 games and has gone 6-for-69 (8.7 percent) with the man advantage over that span.
Although the Capitals have lost two straight, they actually managed to outshoot their opponents by a combined 57-43 over that span. But now Hunter must find a way to get his players to start putting the puck in the net.
"You've seen our practice today," Hunter told reporters following Monday's session. "We're trying to get more traffic in front (of the net). Most of the goals are scored around the blue paint. So, if you want to score, then you need to be around there."