Game 18 Preview: Hurricanes at Capitals

Carolina Hurricanes at Washington Capitals
7 p.m, Verizon Center
TV: FS-Carolinas, CSN-Washington

The big storyline going into tonight will be that it is Alexander Semin's first game at Washington since signing with the Carolina Hurricanes. Semin had many successful years with the Caps before leaving for Carolina via free agency and he was pretty popular with a lot of fans but hated by others. Semin was a fantastic goal-scorer and underrated two-way player during his time in Washington but was criticized for his "work-ethic" and was scapegoated as a "lazy player" whenever things weren't going his team's way. It's not my place to say whether any of those accusations are true or not, but even some teammates have called him out on it. The most recent being Troy Brouwer who said that "there were some nights when you didn't know if he was going tos how up to a rink" in a recent interview.

His work ethic might be questionable according to those in the nation's capital but Semin's current teammates have had nothing but great things to say about him. They even went so far as to defend him on Twitter and in the media the last couple of games, saying that they loved having him around and that he has worked very hard every day this season. Seeing the Hurricanes players stick up for their teammate like this is a great sign and I'm sure they are ready to play for him tonight. It's great that they have some motivation, but they should have had enough motivation going into tonight since they are still without a win in the Southeast Division and need to keep pace with the Tampa Bay Lightning at the top of the division.

After hearing Brouwer's comments, I'm sure that many would love to see Sasha light up his former team, but I don't think Semin cares about how he performs on the stat sheet as long as the Hurricanes are the ones taking home the two points.

Know Your Opponent: Washington Capitals

At the beginning of the year, I thought Washington would be improved compared to how they were under Dale Hunter but they've actually been a lot worse. They currently sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference with a 6-10-1 record and would need to acquire points in nearly 70% of their remaining games to even have a shot at the playoffs or the Southeast Division title. It's not an impossible feat for a team to accomplish, but the crystal ball isn't predicting many good things for the Capitals right now.

It's going to take time for the Caps to adjust to Adam Oates' system, especially with the shortened training camp, and they have a few new pieces coming in at forward, so there have been a lot of growing pains there for them. They have also been missing a key player in Brooks Laich for the entire season and have been receiving some very bad goaltending from Michal Neuvirth and the recently re-signed Braden Holtby. Given that and some odd lineup decisions on Oates' part, and it's easy to see why this team sputtered out of the gate to start the year. Much of the blame from fans and the media has been given to Alex Ovechkin being on the downward turn of his career, but that claim isn't completely true. He might not be putting the puck in the back of the net as often as usual, but Ovechkin is still a top 5 player in shots on goal so he is creating a lot of offense. His days of scoring 40-60 goals a season are over, but he is still one of the most dangerous forwards in the NHL no matter what his goal total is. 

The Caps dug themselves into too big of a hole to contend for a playoff spot but this team is probably a little better than their record indicates. They haven't been a great territorial team this season but they haven't been awful and their goaltenders probably aren't as bad as they've shown so far either. It might be too late for the Caps to save their season, but this game wont be a pushover based on their record.

Tentative Lines

Tlusty – E. Staal – Semin
Dwyer – J. Staal – Dalpe
Bowman – Nash – Jokinen
Westgarth – Wallace – LaRose

Corvo – Faulk
Harrison – Sanguinetti
Gragnani – Murphy


Out: Welsh, Pitkanen, Gleason, McBain, Skinner

Chimera – Ribiero – Ovechkin
Brouwer – Backstrom – Fehr
Wolski – Perreault – Ward
Crabb – Beagle – Hendricks

Green – Alzner
Carlson – Erskine
Schultz – Kundratek


Out: Poti, Hamrlik, Johansson, Laich

Five Things to Watch For

– Zac Dalpe makes his return to the lineup tonight and if you remember, he was a pretty solid territorial player while being used on Jordan Staal's line during his first stint. Staal has actually done a fine job possession-wise since Skinner went down, so adding a player with more offensive talent on his line shouldn't hurt at all. That's actually what this line needs right now in Skinner's absence because while they've been able to keep the puck in the offensive zone, it hasn't been resulting in them getting a lot of shots. Hopefully Dalpe can improve that. They should spent most of the night against Ribiero and Ovechkin, two of Washington's best offensive players this season so that will be a good matchup.

– I'm really not sure how this defense is going to fare tonight with Marc-Andre Gragnani being inserted into the lineup for Michal Jordan. I know it's just subbing one AHL player for another, but Graganani plays a much more risky game than Jordan as an offensive defenseman and tends to wander a lot. I can't imagine that he and Murphy will do well together if they aren't protected but they could be awesome on the powerplay. Gragnani was a positive possession player in Vancouver in Buffalo last season but he was also given some of the easiest minutes on his team(s). This could end up being a favorable matchup for Washington if they are misused just a little.

– A favorable matchup for Carolina could be one of their top-two lines against Carlson and Erskine. Carlson is one of the better young defensemen in the league but Erskine has struggled to keep his head above water this year and he is playing shutdown minutes for some reason. If one of the Staal brothers is consistently out against them then it could be a long night for the Caps.

– If there is one good thing Adam Oates has done with the Caps as head coach, it's that he has made their powerplay one of the best in the league. Adding Ribeiro is part of the reason for this, too as he has recorded 12 of his 21 points there, but there are still plenty of options for them to use. Ovechkin and Backstrom are obviously dangerous and they just got another weapon back today in the form of Mike Green. Carolina's PK was able to hold off the Islanders powerplay the other night, but they've got  another tough test tonight if they fall into penalty trouble. 

– When the Caps acquired Joel Ward two summers ago, the thought was that he would be used on a shutdown line and provide some secondary scoring for the Caps. He ended up being a fourth liner and the most useful thing he did was score the winning goal in Game 7 of their first round matchup against the Bruins last year. This season, he looks more like the player they expected to get. Ward has been performing great territorially while playing some very tough minutes on the Caps third line and is tied for the team lead in even strength goals with four. He might get an easier matchup tonight since Backstrom's line has been getting most of the tough minutes but that probably makes him more dangerous given how good of a territorial player he is.

It's nice to have some added motivation heading into tonight's game but this matchup was already very important even without the Semin drama. The Hurricanes need to get some wins against divisional opponents if they want to have a chance at the playoffs and tonight is a good place to start.