Even the team’s last preseason game against each other had a different vibe to it. There was jawing, chippiness, extra pushing and shoving and a whole bunch more ‘I really don’t like you’ even in a meaningless. The Capitals have long been the Hurricanes most natural rival given the teams’ proximity and dating all the way back to the old Southeast Division together. But the Capitals did not figure in any of the Hurricanes intermittent playoff runs, and the Canes were mostly absent from the playoffs altogether during the Capitals regular appearances during the last decade. But for two weeks last April, the two teams finally met in the playoffs, and it was absolutely outstanding. The teams traded punches literally and figuratively in a back and forth seven game series that of course ended in a Hurricanes victory.
Expect nothing but animosity between these two teams every time they meet from that day forward.
Aside from the rivalry and testiness the game represents and early battle for the top of the Metropolitan Division. Yes, it is only game two, but now is the time for the Hurricanes to build early momentum and avoid needing a nearly perfect three-month run to return to the playoffs.
My watch points for the game follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Washington Capitals
1) A cleaner game
The Hurricanes had their moments early in Thursday’s game and also managed to find a higher gear in the third period. But the first period was really sloppy moving the puck, and the second period featured a number of break downs or ‘oopses’ that self-inflicted pressure and led to a couple goals against. Reaching regular season caliber might take some time, but ideal would be to at least see a step in the right direction.
2) Answering animosity
Both teams have animosity for each other at this point, but I would argue that the Capitals have a bit more sheer nastiness of the old school variety. In the playoffs, the Hurricanes did a good job of matching the Capitals check for check physicality-wise and mostly dodging fisticuffs that did not make any sense. But with heavyweight Micheal Ferland gone and savvy interference runner Justin Williams also gone, the Hurricanes have a different crew in terms of policing shenanigans. Joel Edmundson helps, and Jordan Martinook like Williams is good at defusing things before they boil over. Regardless, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes are able to answer the Capitals between the whistles and handle things smartly otherwise.
3) Best against best
Top match ups like this are often decided by which team’s best players are the best. Sebastian Aho had a decent game but did not crack the score sheet in the Canes opening night win. Jordan Staal clanged a post but similarly did not score, nor did Andrei Svechnikov or Teuvo Teravainen despite also having solid games. On Saturday, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes’ top players can match or better Washington’s best.
4) Special teams
The Hurricanes power play was strong in Thursday’s win. Martin Necas scored on a tip. In addition, the power play had two posts and a goal that occurred eight seconds after a power play had ended. The penalty kill did get touched for a goal against, but in total I would the Hurricanes special teams play as a positive. Despite the positive first impression, ideal would be not to play with fire and try the Capitals in a special teams battle. But especially with the animosity between these two teams, special teams will likely play some role.
The puck drops at 7pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.