CAPITALS (18-13-3) at HURRICANES (14-13-7)
TV: CSN-DC, FS-CR
Last 10: Washington 6-3-1; Carolina 5-3-2
Season series: This is the third of five games between the Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes. Carolina won the first two, including a 4-1 victory on Dec. 3 in which Jeff Skinner had two goals and an assist for the Hurricanes.
Big story: Alex Ovechkin enters the game needing one goal for 400 in his career. He has 399 goals in 633 career games and would become the 89th player to reach the milestone. He leads the NHL with 28 this season.
"It's a big number. It's going to be nice to do it earlier and just don't think about it," Ovechkin said after practice Thursday.
Ovechkin's coach, Adam Oates, raved about the superstar's accomplishments.
"It's fantastic because goaltending gets better and better each year. To keep putting numbers up is going to be a real accomplishment in hockey," Oates said.
Capitals: Washington suffered a 5-2 loss against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday, two days after coming back from a 4-1 deficit to beat the Flyers, 5-4. In the rematch, the Capitals held leads of 1-0 and 2-1 before three second-period goals in less than seven minutes gave the Flyers a 4-2 lead.
After winning four of the five meetings last season against Carolina, Washington has struggled against the Hurricanes this season.
"This is a team that plays us tough every time. For some reason we have a little trouble with Carolina so we're going to have to make sure we are ready for it," forward Eric Fehr told the Capitals website on Thursday. "A little bit of a bounce-back game. I don't think we finished the game the last time like we wanted to last game."
Washington sits in second place in the Metropolitan Division, four points ahead of third-place Carolina.
Hurricanes: Carolina had a five-day break after ending a four-game road trip with a 3-1 win against the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday. Justin Peters had 37 saves and Eric Staal had a goal and two assists.
After a stretch in which they played seven of eight games against Western Conference opponents, the Hurricanes are preparing for six consecutive games against Eastern Conference rivals, including three games within their division.
“It’s great that we did what we did [on the road trip], but now the big games – divisional and conference games – are important. It starts tomorrow night,” coach Kirk Muller told the media Thursday. “We’ve got to get that focus back that we had on the trip and get ready to roll.”
Peters is 3-1-1 in his past five starts and hasn't allowed more than two goals in any of those games.
"Justin keeps ticking along here. We talk about timely goals. He made some really timely saves. He looks real confident and the guys have confidence in him. He's a big part of the win," Muller said.
Who's hot: Ovechkin has eight goals in his past eight games for the Capitals. Nicklas Backstrom has points in four straight games (two goals, eight assists). … Skinner has scored a goal in three straight games for the Hurricanes. Eric Staal has points in seven of eight games (three goals, seven assists).
Injury report: Washington is without defenseman Jack Hillen (tibia) and forwards Brook Laich (groin) and Michael Latta (lower body), who are on injured reserve. Forward Mikhail Grabovski (flu) is questionable. … Carolina defensemen Joni Pitkanen (heel) and Mike Komisarek (lower body) and goalie Anton Khudobin (lower body) are on IR. Forward Elias Lindholm (upper body) and defenseman Brett Bellemore (concussion) are questionable. Lindholm will leave the Hurricanes on Friday to join Sweden's entry at the World Junior Championship.
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