The Caps return home after a six game road trip. It’s been two weeks since the Capitals played a game in the friendly confines of the Verizon Center. They return home to play a hungry Canes team somewhat out of the playoff hunt. While the Canes are five points out of the coveted eighth seed, they have been playing well down the stretch, hoping they can catch the Buffalo Sabres. While the Canes seem to be out of it, the Caps are deep in a race for the first seed. They are tied with the Penguins and both teams sit only two points behind the first place Flyers for first in the Eastern Conference. The Caps have played more games thus far on the season so, they will likely need a bit of help to keep their chances of another Eastern Conference regular season title within reach. I have a feeling though, the Caps are chasing a different title this season.
Tuesday at Verizon Center: Carolina Hurricanes GP 75 W 35 L 30 OTL 10 PTS 80 LAST 10 (4-5-1)
Last Game: Friday March 11th, 2011 2-1 Victory for the Caps
Three Star Selections:
1st Matt Hendricks
2nd Braden Holtby
3rd Cam Ward
Winning Goalie: Braden Holtby
Losing Goalie: Cam Ward
Winning Goal: Matt Hendricks
Match Up: While all appears lost for the Canes season, as they are five points out with only seven to play, there are quite a few bright spots to admire. Veteran Erik Cole seems to have missed the injury bug, has contributed to the offense, and could hit the 50 point mark for the first time since the 2007-2008 season. The biggest surprise of all has been rookie wunderkind, Jeff Skinner. Besides being named to the All Star roster, the rookie is currently first overall in rookie scoring with 54 points (26g, 28a). Eric Staal has been solid with 68 points (31g, 37a). Cam Ward has been the rock the Canes leaned on and has performed well despite the weak crop of defenders in front of his crease. Ward has a chance down the stretch to hit 35 wins for the third time in his career and he does have a decent .920 save percentage and goals against average of 2.64. That number in it self is impressive since the Canes as a team have a collective net goal differential of -13.
X Factor: The Canes are a team no one can take lightly. Despite the Caps locking up a playoff spot and close to another Southeast Division title, the job isn’t done just yet. Defensively, the Caps have to show a bit more urgency in their own zone. Moving the opposition from the crease and clearing the slot so good scoring chances don’t develop for opposing shooters. Look for the entire Caps defensive core to really push the tempo out of their own zone and play strong in front of the net. The playoff push begins now and what better way to start it than with strong defensive play in their own zone.