The Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes are working out some early season kinks, and the former Southeast Division rivals are hoping a win Wednesday night will give them firmer footing in the new-look Metropolitan Division.
The Capitals (1-2-0) have been idle since a 2-1 defeat at Dallas on Saturday. Alex Ovechkin continued his quick start with his team-high fourth goal, but Washington has been plagued by defensive breakdowns and been outscored 10-3 while playing at even strength.
"We had lots of chances - lots of crossbars and posts," said Ovechkin, who has scored on the power play in all three contests and has 24 goals and 65 points in 52 games against Carolina.
The time off has allowed coach Adam Oates to evaluate some of his younger players, with 19-year-old defenseman Connor Carrick drawing most of his scrutiny - and some praise - in the early going.
"I think the one thing we're conscious of is are we hurting his learning curve, has he stopped learning because he's in survival mode," Oates said of Carrick, one of two teenagers on the team along with forward Tom Wilson. "When I watch them play, they don't look like 19 year olds. They make mistakes, but I haven't seen a 19-year-old mistake yet."
Oates is also hoping Washington's second line of Brooks Laich, Mikael Grabovski and Troy Brouwer found some cohesion with the extra time to practice. Grabovski has proven potent on the power play, totaling two goals and two assists, and Laich knows his trio must back up Ovechkin's line for Washington to be successful.
"If you stop the top line, you have a good chance of winning," Laich said. "They have a little bit more depth but I think our depth is even greater and our special teams should do the job and should help us all get a win."
Despite a 4.48 goals-against average through three games, Braden Holtby likely will start in net. He went 3-1-0 with a 1.75 GAA and a shutout versus Carolina last season.
The Hurricanes (1-1-1) are trying to regroup after losing 5-2 at Pittsburgh on Tuesday night. They overcame a two-goal deficit to tie the game at 2 with 16:47 left on Nathan Gerbe's goal, only to give up three unanswered tallies in an eight-minute span as ex-Hurricane Jussi Jokinen recorded a hat trick.
"It's a lesson for us that we have to play for 60 minutes," coach Kirk Muller said. "It's every inch, every play you do is important. These good teams, they force you to perform on every shift and we have to sustain it every time we're on the ice."
Gerbe and Radek Dvorak have accounted for four of Carolina's six goals, while brothers Eric and Jordan Staal have combined for one goal and a minus-4 rating.
Carolina yielded two power-play goals in three chances Tuesday after killing off all five penalties in its first two games.
Washington won the last three games between the teams last season and four of five overall in 2012-13 en route to the Southeast title.