Despite languishing in last place, the Washington Capitals are right to look at the schedule and salivate. Tuesday night was their first of five meetings with the Southeast Division-leading Carolina Hurricanes. Forget the early-season struggles; those are more than enough opportunities to make a difference.
“You can’t understate the magnitude of this game,” left wing Jason Chimera said.
It’s one of 48, but as far as the Caps keeping pace in the playoff rush, Chimera’s right. That’s why the 3-0 victory over the Hurricanes, while unremarkable, was important: two more points in the bank to climb back into contention.
With the season almost unbelievably inching toward the midway point, the Caps appear to be getting results from what coach Adam Oates refers to as “correct hockey.” They’ve won five of seven, outscoring opponents 26-14 in that time.
That’s not dominant, but it’s a far cry from a painfully slow start that had Washington last in the NHL. This stretch hasn’t lacked some familiar problems, like penalties, but stellar special teams play and solid goaltending from Braden Holtby have been the constants.
They were again Tuesday as Holtby, fresh off signing a two-year, $3.7 million contract extension, recorded his second shutout of the season, and the power play clicked for yet another goal. If not for goalie Cam Ward’s brilliance, the Caps would have blown the Hurricanes out of Verizon Center on the night of Alexander Semin’s return.
Instead, Semin was not much of a factor. The stars were Holtby, and goal-scorers Nicklas Backstrom, John Erskine and John Carlson.
But it didn’t matter who did it, just that the Caps improved to 7-10-1 with 15 points. And it didn’t even matter the opponent, even though facing Carolina provided a nice target.
“They’re all big games from here on out,” defenseman Mike Green said. “We’ve put ourselves in a hole and we got to work our way out starting against Carolina. We’re chasing them and what not, but we’ve got to win every game.”
The Caps won’t win every game, but each one they do means two more points to squirrel away for later.