[AP Preview - WashingtonCaps.com Preview]
One point separates the Caps and 'Canes in the standings. Six-hundredths of a goal is the difference between the two teams' goals per game and seven-hundredths the difference between the two squads' goals against per game. The Caps' penalty kill is 2.8% more efficient than Carolina's, and their power play 0.8% less efficient. The two teams have split four head-to-head match ups on the season so far, with each team notching a home shutout and another home win, and both teams have been hit hard by injuries (Carolina is without Justin Williams, Matt Cullen, Chad LaRose, Dennis Seidneberg and David Tanabe who have accounted for 26 goals and 75 assists in 190 total games in 2007-08, while the Caps are, of course, without Chris Clark, Michael Nylander and Brian Pothier who have a combined for 21 goals and 39 assists in 96 man-games on the season).
The teams are evenly matched on paper, to be sure, but the Caps come in with momentum. Since Bruce Boudreau took over, Washington is 20-10-4. Carolina is 15-20-1 over a similar stretch, and 4-6-0 in their last ten (the Caps are 7-3-0). Washington's Alex Ovechkin has eight points (seven goals) in his last four outings, Nicklas Backstrom 12 in his last nine and Mike Green four in his last four while Carolina's Eric Staal is pointless in hist last four games, Erik Cole in his last six and Frantisek Kaberle in his last dozen.
Not all 'Canes are chilly, though (Rod Brind'Amour has 11 points in his last nine games and Cam Ward has a 1.98 GAA and .935 SV% in his last four), and not all Caps hot (Alex Semin's goal against Columbus is his only point in six games).
Bottom line: throw out all the stats, because they're gonna play this one on ice (or something close to it), not on paper, and we'll get our first chance to see how the first-place Washington Capitals defend that top spot. It oughta be a doozy.
Why The Hurricanes Will Win:
"The Canes will win if and only if AO comes down with the flu before the game. Otherwise, it's probably going to be ugly." - Carolina On Ice
"Because the Caps are riding high and they aren't used to that. They'll wake up tomorrow and realize something feels wrong and go back to losing again like they're supposed to. I will assist in this by going to DC and changing all the calendars back to November. And because Ovie's gotta run out of gas sometime, doesn't he? Yes?" - The Sliding Pokecheck [Ed. note: No, no he doesn't]
Elsewhere 'Round the Rinks:
So I can get a press pass in D.C. but Pat LaFontaine can't get one on The Island? Ha?... Happy Birthday Dino Ciccarelli... Because I like getting nostalgic, I'm going to start including some links back to what we posted here at The Rink on a given date one and two years ago. I find it interesting to see what we thought at the time and how that may or may not have changed since. So... A year ago today, we previewed the Caps and Kings, looked at why the Caps should trade Dainius Zubrus and discussed an article on one aspect of the culture of the game. Two years ago today we recapped a bleak loss to Florida and found our nominee for hit of the year.
Hart: Dany Heatley (2G, including the game-winner, A, 5 SOG)
Ross: Evgeni Malkin, Ryan Whitney, Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley, Brad Stuart, Alex Frolov (3 points each)
Norris: Ryan Whitney (2G, A, 4 SOG, 2 Hits, 3 BkS)
Vezina: Mike Smith (25-save shutout win)
Richard: Ryan Whitney, Dany Heatley, Darcy Tucker, Henrik Zetterberg, Mike Comrie (2G each)
Calder: Kris Letang (Game-winning goal, +1, 2 BkS)
Aiken: Henrik Lundqvist (L, 4 goals allowed on 19 shots against)