Capitals-Hurricanes Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated January 19, 2012
The Washington Capitals have put their early struggles behind them and moved into a tie atop the Southeast Division. Based on their recent history against the Carolina Hurricanes, they could find themselves alone in first place by the end of Friday night. The surging Capitals go for their fourth win in as many matchups with their division rivals this season when the teams meet at the RBC Center. Washington (25-18-2) pulled even with Florida for the top spot in the division Wednesday, beating Montreal 3-0 while the Panthers lost in overtime to Colorado. The Caps bounced back from being blanked by the New York Islanders in their previous game, winning for the fourth time in five contests and eighth time in 11. Michal Neuvirth made 31 saves - 17 in the third period - as the Capitals avoided a third straight loss on the road, where they are 8-12-1. They opened a stretch in which they play six of seven away from home. "With the group that we have here ... I feel (we're) better built for the road. We should be winning more games on the road," veteran forward Mike Knuble said. With the Panthers also playing Friday, the Caps could be in sole possession of the top spot in the Southeast by the end of the night's action. A matchup with the last-place Hurricanes should give them a good chance to do their part to make that happen. Washington has won eight of the last nine meetings and gone 9-0-3 in the previous 12. The Caps took the latest matchup Sunday, 2-1 behind 43 saves from Tomas Vokoun. It's uncertain whether Neuvirth, who made his first start in 11 games, or Vokoun will be in net. Neuvirth is 3-1-0 with a 2.23 goals-against average versus Carolina, while Vokoun has gone 13-10-4 with one tie and a 2.74 GAA in 30 matchups. Alex Ovechkin, who scored his 19th goal Wednesday, has four assists in his last three games versus the Hurricanes. However, he also has a four-game goal drought against them and has managed two goals in his last 15 in the series. Washington went 1 for 4 on the power play Wednesday, but the club has struggled with the man advantage recently, recording three goals in 17 chances over the last six games. The Caps, though, have gone 4 for 13 in their last five road contests and are 3 for 9 versus Carolina this season. The Hurricanes' loss to Washington on Sunday prevented them from winning what would have been a season high-tying third straight, and they dropped their next contest 2-1 in a shootout to Pittsburgh on Tuesday. Carolina totaled nine goals in its back-to-back victories before managing one goal in each of its last two. "It's a tough pill to swallow," defenseman Jamie McBain said. "You know, once again we're feeling good about our game and we've just got to keep fighting and eventually the results will turn." The Hurricanes (16-24-8) are 8-11-4 since Kirk Muller took over for Paul Maurice at the end of November. Washington's Alexander Semin has three goals and two assists in a four-game point streak in the series. His 27 goals and 45 points versus Carolina are his highest totals against any team, while his 18 assists are tied for his most versus an opponent. Washington has won four straight at the RBC Center, taking the most recent meeting there 5-1 on Nov. 4.
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