(AP) — The Washington Capitals need to snap out of a scoring slump if they want to win a fifth consecutive Southeast Division title. Breaking a lengthy scoreless stretch against the Carolina Hurricanes would be a step in that direction.
Washington looks to avoid getting shut out for a team-record third consecutive time Tuesday night when it hosts the Hurricanes, who have blanked the Capitals in the last two matchups.
While Washington (32-28-5) is just outside the Eastern Conference playoff picture and five points behind first-place Florida in the division race, it has picked a bad time to stop scoring.
Washington, outscored 6-0 while losing two straight, was last shut out in back-to-back home games March 13-15, 2001, by Anaheim and Carolina.
Despite outshooting Philadelphia 34-23 on Sunday, the Capitals fell 1-0 in the third game of a five-game homestand.
“You can’t be frustrated. You’ve just got to go ‘the goalie was hot’ and just keep getting pucks to the net,” coach Dale Hunter said.
The Capitals have not done much of that lately against Carolina, getting outshot 73-40 in the last two meetings.
After snapping the Caps’ 12-game point streak in the series with a 3-0 home win Jan. 20, the Hurricanes (24-27-14) routed Washington 5-0 in Raleigh on Feb. 20. The Capitals, though, have gone 4-0-1 in the last five matchups at the Verizon Center. Each of their last eight home wins over Carolina have come by one goal.
The Hurricanes, 14th in the East with 62 points, have gone 1-1-3 since the most recent win over the Caps. They lost 4-3 in overtime to Tampa Bay on Saturday.
“Our guys are competing and playing at a high level,” said coach Kirk Muller, whose club opens a season-high five-game trip. “I’m really happy with the performance.”
Muller couldn’t be any happier with the play of Eric Staal, who has seven goals and 13 assists during an 11-game point streak. With a point Tuesday, Staal will have the club’s longest run since it relocated from Hartford in 1997.
The captain has four goals and a team-high eight points versus Washington this season.
The Capitals need their captain to start producing. Alex Ovechkin has three goals in the last 10 games and his turnover Sunday led to the lone tally.
Washington hasn’t scored since Ovechkin’s OT goal Feb. 28. The star forward, a combined plus-69 the past two seasons, is minus-9 in 2011-12.
“It’s just a period of time when you try hard but you can’t win the game,” Ovechkin said following Monday’s practice. “Again, it’s not over yet, and we’re going to fight through and we’re going to win some games.”
Cam Ward will likely be in net to try and prevent that from happening Tuesday. Ward lost his first two starts against Washington this season before recording his 18th career shutout Jan. 20 with 23 saves.
Ward missed the Feb. 20 matchup with a lower-body injury, but Justin Peters stepped in and turned aside 17 shots for his first NHL shutout.
The Capitals’ last goal versus Carolina came off the stick of Dmitry Orlov 1:12 into the third period of a 2-1 home victory Jan. 15. Orlov’s winning score was his first career goal.
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