Caps Close Out Trip Against Canes
Jan. 18 vs. Carolina Hurricanes at RBC Center
Time: 7:00 pm
Radio: WTEM 980 AMWashington Capitals (19-20-7)Carolina Hurricanes (25-18-5)
The Caps conclude a four-game road trip in Raleigh against the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night. Washington is seeking its first win on the trip, and it is also looking to stop a six-game road losing skid.
At this time last month, Washington was flying high. With a 4-1 win over Philadelphia on Dec. 16, the Caps pushed their record to 15-10-7, five games over the break-even point for the first time since the conclusion of the 2002-03 season.
Since then, hard times have set in. The Caps lost defenseman John Erskine to a broken bone in his foot, an injury suffered in that win over Philly. Days later, blueliner Bryan Muir was also felled by a broken foot, an injury suffered in Washington?s outdoor practice in mid-December. A stomach virus came next, affecting nearly half the players in the locker room to some degree, and necessitating a rash of minor league call-ups to get through the week following Christmas.
Forwards Richard Zednik and Matt Bradley went down with injuries earlier in December, and the Caps simply did not have sufficient depth to withstand all those woes at once.
The Caps rallied for a three-game winning streak on home ice in early January, but they?ve found the road cruel and difficult since a 3-2 win in Toronto on Dec. 23. Tuesday?s 5-2 loss at Ottawa is the team?s sixth straight loss on the road. The Caps dropped seven straight road contests late in the 2003-04 season, but haven?t lost more than seven successive road games since 1975-76.
In the last month, Washington has gone 4-10 overall, falling from fifth place to 13th place in the Eastern Conference standings in the process.
The loss to the Senators brought more bad news. Rookie defenseman Mike Green blocked a shot with his foot, and is going to be out of the lineup indefinitely.
?The biggest surprise is that with the way skates are,? says Caps coach Glen Hanlon, ?and with how hard guys shoot, it?s amazing guys don?t break their feet every single game. You think how many times there is a slapshot from the point through a crowd of feet, and it?s amazing more guys don?t have them.?
A recent check of the league?s wounded revealed four other defensemen out of the lineup with broken bones in their feet: Anaheim?s Chris Pronger, Carolina?s Tim Gleason, Colorado?s John-Michael Liles and New Jersey?s Alex Brooks.
Bradley has returned to the lineup, and Zednik is getting closer (possibly after the All-Star break), but the Caps really miss Erskine?s presence on the penalty kill. In the 18 games in which the big blueliners was in the Washington lineup, the Caps mustered a respectable 82.8% success rate on the penalty kill. In the 14 games in which he has been sidelined, Washington has surrendered 17 power play goals and has a penalty kill success rate of just 73%.
Olie Kolzig is expected to be back in goal on Thursday night; Brent Johnson was between the pipes on Tuesday in Ottawa. Kolzig once dominated the Southeast Division, but he has had trouble against divisional foes in 2006-07. The veteran Caps goaltender is 5-7-1 with a 3.62 goals against average and an .896 save pct. against the Southeast this season. Kolzig is 10-7-3 against the rest of league.
When the Capitals paid their last visit to the playoffs back in 2002-03, Kolzig was 11-4-1 and had a 1.87 goals against average and a .935 save pct. against fellow denizens of the Southeast Division.
Going into Wednesday?s NHL action, the Capitals? power play unit ranks 17th in the NHL with a 17.3% success rate. The Caps failed to score on the power play in Thursday?s loss at Ottawa, ending a six-game run in which they had scored at least once with the extra man. The Caps are 21st in the league in penalty killing with a kill rate of 80.5%.
The Hurricanes are in the midst of a stretch in which they play seven straight games against Southeast Division opponents. Carolina is 12-3-1 in divisional play this season. All three of Carolina?s losses to Southeast Division teams came in the month of October, and while the team was on the road. The first of those setbacks came on Oct. 7 at Verizon Center when Washington downed the Canes 5-2 in the Capitals? home opener.
John Grahame was in goal for Carolina in its most recent game, a 3-2 overtime win over Florida on Tuesday. Prior to that contest, Cam Ward had started the previous eight games for the Hurricanes.
The Canes have picked up at least a point in each of their last five games (4-0-1).
Carolina ranks 21st in the NHL with a 16.4% power play success rate. The Canes are ninth in the league in penalty killing with a kill rate of 84.2%.
Carolina?s power play was slugging along with a 13.9% success rate until Cory Stillman returned to the lineup last month. In the 16 games since Stillman?s return, the Hurricanes? power play has clicked at a much more robust pace of 21.5%. Stillman missed the season?s first 31 games after undergoing shoulder surgery last August.