This round of NHL Predictions features a Metropolitan Division showdown between two old Southeast Division rivals. The Carolina Hurricanes welcome the Washington Capitals to Raleigh for the first time this season. The two teams are essentially neck and neck in the standings with the Capitals having some games in hand. Carolina has been okay this season but largely underperforming based on expectations entering the year. On the other side, Washington has been exceeding expectations initially based on the team missing the playoffs last season, switching coaches, and losing some of the core that has driven the team for years.
Carolina enters this one coming off of a crazy 6-5 OT loss to the Nashville Predators. While the team as a whole played a little loose, a lot of the blame seemed to surround Antti Raanta‘s goaltending. Even though Rod Brind’Amour stuck up for the veteran netminder, the Hurricanes placed him on waivers the next day. Carolina has had an up-and-down season with no real consistent win streak yet.
Washington comes to Raleigh after playing the night before against the Predators. Even though they are not lighting up the scoresheet, the Capitals cornerstone players of Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson still lead the way in points. This will be a big game for two teams jockeying for position in the division. Let’s take a look at three keys for a Carolina victory.
NHL Predictions: Carolina Hurricanes vs Washington Capitals
Three Keys to Victory for the Hurricanes
Use the Rest as an Advantage
Carolina comes into this game in an opposite position as their last matchup against Nashville. Having a day’s rest at home may be what the team needs for a real reset after struggling through Western Canada, pulling out victories in Ottawa and Detroit, and then leaving Detroit to turn around and play at home the next day. Brind’Amour has indicated that guys are a little banged up, but even mentally having time at home could be good for the team.
In the last Hurricanes predictions, we discussed the advantages of playing a back-to-back, but also mentioned the disadvantages. Carolina should look to utilize the rest and take advantage of a Capitals team who will be the one on a second of a back-to-back this time. Carolina should come at Washington hard and fast and not let up. The Capitals may come out of the gate hard but as was seen with Carolina against Nashville, as the game goes on it’s common to see the team start to fatigue. If Carolina sits back, they will make it easy for Washington. But if they relentlessly attack, they can wear them down and control the game.
Pyotr Kochetkov Staying Hot
The goalie situation in Carolina all season has been less than ideal. The de facto number one goalie, Frederik Andersen, has been out with a blood clotting issue that might keep him out all year. Antti Raanta was just put on waivers and has the worst SV% (.854) in the league this year (not including a goalie who only played one game). Kochetkov has also not had a great year, sporting a .890 SV% and 2.77 GAA. But his last two games have been enough to see him as a true number one for the time being.
Against both the Ottawa Senators and the high-octane offence of the Detroit Red Wings he only let in one goal in each. The goal against Detroit he was a little off his post but otherwise played very well. Against Ottawa, he also played well as his performance was highlighted by a double pad stack save and a diving poke check on Brady Tkachuk during a penalty shot.
Pyotr Kochetkov and Brady Tkachuk: The newest feud in the NHL. 🍿 pic.twitter.com/gurxTAYVLg
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) December 13, 2023
Overall, he stopped 56 of 58 shots in those two contests to help the Hurricanes get back on track. His SV% of .966 over those two brought his overall SV% from .873 up close to the .900 mark. If Kochetkov can stay hot, this will give Carolina a major boost against a Capitals team that ranks low in goals for per game and power play.
As much as the Hurricanes matchup against Nashville fell on Raanta’s performance, the team was fairly loose. And not necessarily in a good way. The penalty kill was solid but allowed its first goal in many games. But certain plays like Tyson Barrie‘s semi-breakaway goal came from a lack of structure and focus defensively.
Scored by Tyson Barrie with 09:42 remaining in the 2nd period.
Assisted by Cole Smith and Philip Tomasino.
— NHL Goals (@nhl_goal_bot) December 16, 2023
Even in overtime, a turnover led to Filip Forsberg skating down the ice with multiple Hurricanes defenders in front of him. But he took one move to the middle of the ice, shot it and scored with little challenge. Washington does not score a ton of goals but has gotten solid goaltending as Charlie Lindgren ranks in the top ten for goals saved above expected. Both teams rank similar in expected goals against at 5v5 while Carolina ranks near the top and Washington near the bottom in expected goals for at 5v5. A big difference comes in the fact that Washington has a positive goal differential above expected while Carolina has a -7.91 in that category.
While the offence was nice, Carolina will do well to play more like their game against Detroit than their one against Nashville. It fits more of their style and shows that the team can execute when staying focused and tight within the system. Additionally, with Washington’s power play struggling and Carolina’s penalty kill playing well lately, Carolina needs to stay tight on the special teams to keep that story the same too. As always watch Ovechkin, but keeping the pressure tight with opportunistic capitalization will be key for Carolina.
This one comes as another tricky one to predict. Carolina has a moment to reset and will continue to be at home where they tend to play better. But with the change in pace and the emotions from Raanta going on waivers, how the team responds will be interesting to watch. Washington will look to keep their solid play up as well and won’t give anything easy coming off a game the night before. If Carolina can take advantage of Washington’s back-to-back and tighten up their game, they have a good chance in this one.
Prediction: Carolina wins 3-1
Main Photo Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports