The Capitals enter Monday’s match up against the Canes having clearly established themselves as the NHL’s elite. Dallas is tied with Washington atop the NHL standings, but the Caps are the best team right now. In their past 14 games, they have only 1 regulation loss and 1 overtime loss to go with 12 wins.
The Capitals are third in goals scored and first in goals against. The Capitals also boast special teams units that are playing well. And combined with stellar goaltending from Braden Holtby, everthing is clicking right now.
The Washington Capitals are the Jedi Masters of the NHL right now.
I actually think the timing is right for this game for the Canes. The team is playing pretty well itself with a 5-2-1 record in their past 8 games. The game puts 1 more huge challenge before the team before 4 days off for the break. A win would provide huge momentum coming out of the break, and a loss would not be catastrophic given the opponent. And with a day off yesterday and 4 more off following this game, Coach Bill Peters has the ability to shorten the bench and empty the tank if this game is within reach entering the third period.
Here is what I will be watching:
1) Initiation by fire
The morning skate suggests that Jaccob Slavin will again see himself in the top 4 next to Ron Hainsey. Making his second start in this slot, he gets a chance to do it against the NHL’s best. My hunch is that Peters will try to match Jordan Staal’s line and Liles/Faulk against Ovechkin/Backstrom/Oshie, but that still leaves Johansson/Kuznetsov/Williams for Hainsey/Slavin. Good or bad, this sets up as a great growing game for Jaccob Slavin on his path to being an every night top 4 and difference-maker for the future of the Carolina Hurricanes.
2) Cam Ward
He did not have much to do in Friday’s 2-0 loss to Florida, but one cannot fault him in the loss for 1 goal against. On Saturday night in Pittsburgh, he was challenged much more and put up another solid 1 goal against in a hard-fought 2-1 win. Can he extend his run of solid games to 3? It is a required ingredient for the Canes to muster a challenge to the mighty Capitals.
I wrote about this duo in some detail for today’s daily post. You can find that HERE. It will be interesting to see if the young duo can quickly adjust to each others’ strengths and style of play and find some chemistry.
4) A chance for an early present
These holiday games have a higher energy level both coming into and exiting them. With the Capitals sitting atop the NHL right now, this game has the potential to be 1 of those special wins, and with 4 days to savor it before another home game the timing would be perfect. It is asking a lot against, but just maybe the hockey gods will shine down and offer an early Christmas present.
5) What does it take to win?
The short answer is a number of things. I think the crux of the game sits with whether Nestrasil/JStaal/Nordstrom (probably mostly with help from Liles/Faulk) can break even or win against the Caps top line which is a tall task. If the Canes get that plus a solid night from Ward, I think it turns into a hockey game with the ball on the tee for the Canes scorers and red hot hot power play to seize a win. If the Caps top line drives territorial play and wins on the score board, I fear this becomes a game of an elite hockey team coming in waves.
The puck drops at about 7:07pm at PNC Arena.