Hot Capitals start back-to-back with Hurricanes

WASHINGTON — The Washington Capitals’ five-day bye is fast approaching, though they certainly do not look like a team that needs a rest.

Washington (27-13-3) sits atop the Metropolitan Division and begins two back-to-back games against the slumping Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night, which will be followed by five days off.

The Capitals defeated the Vancouver Canucks 3-1 on Tuesday night for their fifth straight win overall and 10th in a row at home, the longest streak in the NHL this season. They are 17-2-0 at home since Nov. 2.

“It’s important for the team, but it’s also important for the fans,” coach Barry Trotz told The Washington Post regarding the streak. “We want to win. We want to entertain. We want to send you home happy.

“And I think teams get energy from their building, and like many other teams I think we get energy from our home building and our fans.”

John Carlson and Lars Eller scored first-period goals and Philipp Grubauer made 37 saves in Tuesday’s victory as the Capitals improved to 14-2-2 in their last 16 games.

“Definitely, this stretch has been our best of the year,” Eller said.

Carlson has two goals and five assists in his past five games, and his 34 points (five goals, 29 assist) rank second among NHL defensemen. But he was not on the roster announced Wednesday.

Winger Alex Ovechkin (captain of the Metropolitan Division team) and goalie Braden Holtby will represent Washington, and Trotz will coach the Metropolitan team.

Carolina (19-15-8) dropped a 5-4 decision at Tampa Bay on Tuesday night. After winning seven of eight in December, the Hurricanes are 1-3-1 in their last five games and sit seventh in the Metropolitan Division.

Justin Faulk, Elias Lindholm, Brock McGinn and Sebastian Aho scored for the Hurricanes, and Cam Ward made 29 saves.

McGinn’s goal was his first since Nov. 28 (18 games).

Faulk made it 3-3 with a power-play goal at 10:36 of the second period, but Tampa Bay’s Jake Dotchin and Tyler Johnson scored goals to make 5-3 and the Lightning held on.

“This was tough. We want to get those points and we had a chance tonight,” Aho told NHL.com. “We have to learn to cut down on the mistakes.”

The Hurricanes converted 2 of 4 power play opportunities

“There were some offensive-zone turnovers that hurt us and led to their transition game,” Hurricanes coach Bill Peters told NHL.com. “But for the most part guys were trying to make plays and moving their feet. We did a good job of finding each other (on the power play) and got rewarded for it.”

On Wednesday, defenseman Noah Hanifin was named to the NHL All-Star Game.

Washington took the first meeting of the season between the teams, winning 5-4 at Carolina on Jan. 2. Ovechkin tied the score in the third period and won it in overtime. Holtby made 34 saves.

Victor Rask scored twice for Carolina and Ward stopped 21 of 25 shots.

In the 33-year-old Ward’s career versus Washington, he is 17-16-6 with four shutouts, a 2.74 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage.

Holtby is 12-4-0 with two shutouts, a 1.85 GAA and a .943 save percentage versus Carolina.

Ovechkin has 35 goals and 47 assists in 70 games against the Hurricanes. The 47 assists are his most against any team.

Nicklas Backstrom has 14 goals and 41 assists in 50 games for the Capitals.