Hurricanes-Capitals Preview

The Carolina Hurricanes were the last team to win in regulation
at Washington, and they’re one of the NHL’s hottest clubs as they
get set to return to the nation’s capital.

After acquiring a pair of players for the stretch run from their
Southeast Division rival before the trading deadline, the
NHL-leading Capitals are expected to have Joe Corvo and Scott
Walker face their former club for the first time Wednesday
night.

Washington’s 18-1-1 record in its last 20 home games is a big
reason why the Capitals (44-13-9) have a 13-point lead atop the
Eastern Conference.

But their only regulation defeat in that stretch was a 6-3 loss
to Carolina on Dec. 28 as the Hurricanes’ Eric Staal had two goals
and three assists. At the time, Carolina was last in the East.

“We were in last for a long time, and teams start to take you
for granted, and we were a good team,” Walker said of the
Hurricanes. “All that skill and stuff is coming out now, and if you
take them for granted, then you’re going to end up at the wrong end
of the night.”

The victory began an 18-9-0 stretch for the Hurricanes, who’ve
won eight of their last nine and climbed out of the conference
cellar. But thanks to an injury-riddled start, Carolina’s playoff
chances are slim one season after reaching the East finals.

The Hurricanes were sellers last Wednesday, sending Corvo and
Walker to Washington in separate deals.

Corvo has taken over for fellow defenseman Brian Pothier, who
was sent to Carolina. Walker scored two third-period goals in a 5-4
win over Tampa Bay in his Capitals debut Thursday, although he was
a healthy scratch Monday against Dallas.

“I’m still trying to get accommodated and accustomed to systems
here, so it’s really just concentrate on what we’re doing,” Walker
said. “Obviously playing guys that you’re familiar with is always
interesting.”

The Hurricanes are no strangers to Washington star Alex
Ovechkin, who has at least one point in 12 straight games against
Carolina, totaling four goals and 17 assists.

Although the Capitals’ 13-game home winning streak was snapped
in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Stars on Monday, the team was happy
to get two goals from Ovechkin. The two-time reigning Hart Trophy
winner had been held without a goal in six straight games – his
longest drought this season.

Ovechkin is tied with Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby for the league
lead with 44 goals and is alone atop the NHL with 92 points.

“He was frustrated the last few games. I told him this morning,
‘You’ve got to work harder,'” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said
Monday. “… When he has his energy, well, he is what he is: the
best player in the world.”

Ovechkin will try to beat veteran Manny Legace, who has gone
5-0-0 with a 1.59 goals-against average in his last five starts as
he helps to fill in for injured starter Cam Ward.

The Hurricanes (27-31-7) had a seven-game winning streak snapped
with a 4-1 loss at Florida on Saturday, but bounced back Sunday
with a 4-0 win at Atlanta, as Jussi Jokinen scored his 15th goal in
his last 19 games and Legace made 27 saves for his first shutout of
the season.

“It’s huge,” Legace said. “It’s what you dream about. It’s
everything you want. In this league, it’s so hard to do.”

The 37-year-old is 2-0-0 with a 1.77 GAA in his career against
the Capitals, although he has not faced them since he was with St.
Louis in a 4-3 win on Oct. 27, 2007.