Pregame primer: Caps give Canes new look

Pregame primer: Caps give Canes new look
January 2, 2014, 4:00 pm
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Ovie moved to 2nd line after 4 game pointless streak

(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

News and notes as the Capitals [20-15-5, 45 points] take on the Carolina Hurricanes [15-16-9, 39 points] tonight at Verizon  Center [7 p.m., CSN]:

What it means: The Caps have lost five of their last seven [2-3-2] and have seen their lead over the third-place Flyers reduced to one point. They are three points ahead of the Devils and Rangers and six ahead of the Hurricanes, who are 2-4-4 in their last 10. The Flyers, who have won four straight, are in Colorado tonight. “Teams are catching up,” Caps center Nicklas Backstrom said. “This time of year you want to get a little separation but there are a lot of good teams.”

Parting ways: With Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin on a four-game point drought, coach Adam Oates has moved him to a second line with center Mikhail Grabovski and left wing Eric Fehr. Nicklas Backstrom will center a line with left wing Marcus Johansson and right wing Troy Brouwer. Oates said he could switch back to his old lines a few shifts into the game, but is hoping to give Carolina coach Kirk Muller something to think about with his defense matchups. “If anything I thought the top line was getting a little stale,” Oates said. “We’ll see what happens. Grabo is more of an open-ice skater and Backy’s more of a control player. It might affect the defense pairings he uses against Ovi and Backy because we split them up.”

Familiar faces: This is the fourth of five meetings between the Caps and Canes. Carolina won the first two meetings at Verizon  Center by scores of 3-2 and 4-1. The Caps won the last meeting, a 4-2 win on Dec. 20 in Raleigh. Jeff Skinner leads the Canes with five points [2 goals, 3 assists] in the three games, while Backstrom leads the Caps with five points, all assists. The Caps have gone 4-for-14 on the power play against the Canes this season, the Canes have gone 3-for-14. The Caps are 13-5-2 against the Canes since the start of the 2010-11 season.

[RELATED: Grubauer gets ninth start in 12 games for Caps

Leaderboard: Offensively, the Canes are led by Eric Staal {10-23-33], who is one of only 10 NHL players with a worse plus-minus rating [minus-16] than Ovechkin [minus-15]. Skinner is next with a team-high 16 goals and 27 points, followed by defenseman Andrej Sekera with seven goals and 23 points.

Milestone tracker: Marty Erat is the only forward in the NHL with more than 10 assists [he has 15] without a goal. He’s one point shy of 500 in the NHL. Ovechkin needs one assist to pass Dale Hunter [375] for third on the Caps’ all-time list. Mike Green’s next assist will be the 200th of his career.

Power play: The Caps have gone two straight games without a power play goal [0-for-4]. That’s happened just three other times this season. Twice they have gone three in a row without a goal. Carolina leads the NHL with seven shorthanded goals, including two each by Eric Staal and Patrick Dwyer.

Our time: Tonight marks the final game of a 23-game stretch in which the Caps play in the Eastern time zone. That will end when they travel to Minnesota on Saturday to face the Wild.

Cold shoulder: Defenseman John-Michael Liles will make his Hurricanes debut tonight after being acquired on Wednesday from the Maple Leafs.in exchange for Tim Gleason. Liles took warmups for the Winter Classic in Ann Arbor, Mich., only to be told when he got off the ice he had been traded. He’s expected to play on a second defense pairing with Ryan Murphy.   

Here’s the projected lineups for tonight:

Capitals

Forward Lines

Marcus Johansson – Nicklas Backstrom – Troy Brouwer

Eric Fehr – Mikhail Grabovski – Alex Ovechkin

Jason Chimera – Marty Erat – Joel Ward

Brooks Laich – Jay Beagle – Tom Wilson

Defense Pairings

Karl Alzner – John Carlson

Dmitry Orlov – Mike Green

John Erskine – Steve Oleksy

Goaltenders

Philipp Grubauer [starter] – Braden Holtby

Extras: Michal Neuvirth, Aaron Volpatti, Alex Urbom

Hurricanes

Forward Lines

Jeff Skinner-Eric Staal-Alexander Semin

Nathan Gerbe-Jordan Staal-Patrick Dwyer

Drayson Bowman-Riley Nash-Tuomo Ruutu

Zach Boychuk-Manny Malhotra-Radek Dvorak

Defense Pairings

Andrej Sekera-Justin Faulk

John-Michael Liles-Ryan Murphy

Ron Hainsey-Brett Bellemore

Goaltenders

Anton Khudobin [starter] - Justin Peters

[RELATED: Capitals Laich says he's ready for the long haul]