The Capitals begin the second half of their season this week with four games in six nights highlighted by a home-and-home series against the Southeast Division leading Carolina Hurricanes. The two-game series against Carolina may go a long way in determining Washington’s postseason chances.
The Capitals also visit Boston’s TD Garden for the first time this season on Saturday, before hosting the Buffalo Sabres at Verizon Center on Sunday.
Washington has a combined record this season of 3-0-0 against its upcoming opponents with all three victories having come on home ice.
Below is a preview of the week ahead. All statistics are through Monday’s games.
TUESDAY, MARCH 12 VS. CAROLINA HURRICANES (14-9-1; 1ST PLACE SOUTHEAST DIVISION)
The Capitals blanked the Hurricanes 3-0 in their only meeting of the season on Feb.26 at Verizon Center, but Carolina has since gone 5-1-0 while the Caps have gone 3-3-0.
Washington enters Tuesday’s contest eight points behind Carolina for the division lead with four meetings still to be played this season between the Southeast rivals.
Carolina has climbed atop the Southeast Division standings despite battling injuries for much of the season. Consider that when the Capitals beat the Hurricanes two weeks ago, Carolina was without forwards Jeff Skinner, Tuomo Ruutu and Tim Brent as well as top-four defensemen Joni Pitkanen, Tim Gleason and Jamie McBain.
While Skinner, Brent, Gleason and McBain are all healthy and expected to face the Capitals this week, Ruutu remains out with a hip injury, while Pitkanen has been ruled out of Tuesday’s rematch with a groin injury.
Chad LaRose is also out with a concussion, while No.1 goalie Cam Ward may prove to be Carolina’s most costly injury down the stretch.
The Hurricanes have won 3-of-4 since Ward went down with a torn MCL, but with Ward likely out for at least another month, it remains to be seen whether backups Dan Ellis and Justin Peters can keep the Hurricanes afloat for the second half of the season.
THURSDAY, MARCH 14 @ CAROLINA HURRICANES (14-9-1; 1ST PLACE SOUTHEAST DIVISION)
The Capitals and Hurricanes meet again Thursday in Raleigh for the first of two meetings this season in North Carolina.
The Capitals went 1-2-0 in Raleigh, NC last season having been shut out in each of the latter two contests- a 3-0 goose egg on Jan. 20 and a 5-0 defeat on Feb. 20
Justin Peters blanked the Capitals in the second of those meetings which is worth noting as it remains the only shutout of the 26-year-old’s 30-game NHL career.
SATURDAY, MARCH 16 @ BOSTON BRUINS (17-3-3; 2ND PLACE NORTHEAST DIVISION)
Combine the regular-season and playoffs and the last ten games played between the Capitals and Bruins have all been decided by one goal, with five of those outcomes decided in overtime.
Joel Ward’s overtime game-winning goal in Game 7 ended last spring’s epic first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series between the Caps and Bruins in which all seven games were decided by one goal for the first time in NHL history.
Saturday’s game in Boston will be the first time the Capitals skate at the TD Garden since Ward netted the biggest goal of his NHL career.
The Caps and Bruins met once this year, with the Capitals rallying from a 3-0 deficit with four unanswered goals including Eric Fehr’s overtime winner at Verizon Center on March 5.
The Bruins haven’t lost since that OT defeat in Washington, winning three straight overall to remain one point behind the Montreal Canadiens for top spot in the Eastern Conference.
SUNDAY, MARCH 17 VS. BUFFALO SABRES (9-14-3; 5TH PLACE NORTHEAST DIVISION)
The Capitals get their first look at the Ron Rolston led Sabres on Sunday as Buffalo makes its second of two trips this season to Verizon Center.
Coach Adam Oates earned his first career NHL win on Jan. 27 when the Capitals beat the Sabres 3-2 to improve to 1-3-1 on the season. That game also proved to be Lindy Ruff’s final contest against the Capitals as the longtime Sabres’ bench boss was relieved of his duties on Feb. 20 after a 6-11-1 start to the year.
The Sabres have since gone 3-3-2 under Rolston, who is coaching on an interim basis through the end of the season.
Tomas Vanek has been one of the few bright spots for the Sabres this season as he begins the week eighth in NHL scoring with 29 points in 23 games. Unfortunately for the Sabres, Vanek has struggled of late with just one goal and three assists in his last eight games overall.
Ryan Miller enters the week having started a League-high 16 straight games although the 2010 Vezina Trophy winner has struggled of late going 0-2-1 with a 3.39 goals-against-average and .883 save percentage in his three most recent starts through Monday.