Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals face the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
WASHINGTON -- After taking a few days off for the holidays, the Washington Capitals will look to keep their early season momentum going Thursday against the Carolina Hurricanes in a Metropolitan Division matchup.
The Capitals have won seven of eight and 14 of their last 17 to take control of the division, including a 4-0 victory over Ottawa on Dec. 23, and are winning thanks to contributions from every line. While Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov are the big scoring names, unheralded players such as Lars Eller and Brett Connolly have also stepped up to make Washington's offense more lethal.
"The coaching staff has a lot of faith in every single guy," Connolly told The Washington Post. "We do have a lot of good depth and that's definitely worked in our favor."
Washington has 14 players with at least 10 points and five players with at least 10 goals, a testament to the kind of balance the Capitals are hoping to achieve from the top to bottom lines.
"When you get guys down the lineup contributing, old, slow defenseman contributing, I think that's good for team-building," defenseman Matt Niskanen told reporters after Sunday's game.
With the Capitals coming off the holiday break, expect starter goaltender Braden Holtby to get the start between the pipes against the Hurricanes. He earned the victory in a wild 6-5 overtime contest when the teams faced off Dec. 14. In his career, Holtby is 13-6-0 with a 2.09 goals-against average and .935 save percentage with two shutouts in 19 appearances against Carolina.
The Hurricanes were victorious heading into their break, earning a 5-3 triumph over Boston on Sunday to end a brief, two-game skid. As evidenced by its 15-15-5 record, consistency has been an issue for Carolina. The Hurricanes continue to be carried by Sebastian Aho, who leads the team in goals (14) and assists (24), and is coming off a four-point effort in the win over Boston.
"When you score, you get more confidence. That's how it goes," Aho told the team's website. "I'm feeling pretty good right now, but it's not just me."
Carolina coach Rod Brind'Amour was pleased with his team's effort in the comeback win against Boston, and knows that a similar performance is needed if his team is to best the Capitals.
"You could see from the start they were engaged, even when we got down, and it was nice to see," Brind'Amour told reporters. "The level of engagement, really for 60 minutes, it was there."
The Hurricanes may turn to Petr Mrazek in net for Thursday's contest after he picked up his sixth win of the season against Boston. Carolina has a way to go before it gets to Washington's level of sustained excellence, but the Hurricanes are hoping to start with a win over the division leaders.
"We can come back now feeling a little better," forward Teuvo Teravainen said. "It's still not where we want to be, but it's getting better."