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Hurricanes-Capitals Preview @NHL

It was a nice boost for the Washington Capitals to have Alex Ovechkin back in the lineup. It would be an even bigger lift if he started scoring.

The NHL's defending scoring champion will try to regain his MVP form on Thursday night when the Caps play host to the Southeast Division-leading Carolina Hurricanes.

With only two goals and three assists in his first eight games, Ovechkin admitted that his ailing grandfather's health was affecting his play, and returning to Russia last week to visit him helped a lot.

"I just want to go right now on the ice and play hockey," Ovechkin said following Monday's practice, his first since returning to the United States. "I'm so happy right now I'm skating with my teammates."

But on Tuesday, Ovechkin went scoreless for the fifth time in 2008-09 as Washington (5-4-2) lost 2-1 to Ottawa in overtime.

Ovechkin hasn't found the back of the net in his last seven games, but coach Bruce Boudreau still saw encouraging signs.

"I thought early on he had lots of good little opportunities," said Boudreau, whose team was 1-1-0 without Ovechkin. "At the end of the game, maybe his wind was - I don't know, he didn't have as many chances."

Facing Carolina could be what Ovechkin needs to break his slump. Of his league-leading 65 goals last season, seven came when facing the Hurricanes - the most he had against any opponent.

In his third start of the season, Brent Johnson made 42 saves but gave up Mike Fisher's goal with 40 seconds to play in overtime.

"It's definitely a tough loss," Johnson said. "You want better results any time you can play like that."

Boudreau could start Johnson again in place of Jose Theodore, who's 1-3-0 with a 6.23 goals-against average in his last four starts against Carolina.

Alexander Semin had his team-leading ninth assist on Tomas Fleischmann's second-period goal versus Ottawa. Semin has goals in four straight games and points in seven in a row versus the Hurricanes.

Carolina (7-3-2) enters the Verizon Center looking for its third straight win after defeating Toronto 5-4 in overtime on Tuesday.

The Hurricanes led 3-0 in the opening 8:53 on goals by Tuomo Ruutu, Dennis Seidenberg and Chad LaRose, but squandered that edge before Niclas Wallin scored his first goal of the season 1:52 into the extra session.

Six of Wallin's 20 career goals in the regular and postseason have been game-winners - four in overtime.

Cam Ward made 38 saves but allowed four goals for the third time in eight starts this season. Ward has lost his last two starts against the Capitals, but is 10-4-1 with a 2.56 GAA against them.

Washington won three of four meetings at home with the Hurricanes in 2007-08, outscoring them 12-5.

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