The Carolina Hurricanes are not playing like a team chasing the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Hurricanes have lost five of their last eight games and host the Washington Capitals in the first of three consecutive meetings between the Southeast Division rivals.
Carolina is second in the conference, three points behind Ottawa, and has already clinched its first Southeast title and playoff appearance since 2001-02, when it reached the Stanley Cup finals.
The Hurricanes never recovered from a 3-0 deficit Saturday en route to a 5-2 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers. Goaltender Cam Ward allowed five goals on 18 shots before being pulled for Martin Gerber, who finished with eight saves.
“The game plan was clear—don’t turn the puck over, get it deep and establish the grind,” Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette said. “We wanted to think we were better than them, and we turned the puck over.”
Carolina has outshot five consecutive opponents 178-122, but is averaging just 2.13 goals in its last eight games. The Hurricanes are also 5-for-52 on the power play during that stretch.
Matt Cullen scored his 100th career goal and added an assist Saturday, but leading scorer Eric Staal extended his scoring drought to six games. Rod Brind’Amour, who had a short-handed goal in the loss, has five goals and two assists against the Capitals in five games this season.
The Hurricanes have been outscored 13-4 in three straight losses to the Capitals and have won just three of the last 15 meetings between the teams in Raleigh, N.C., recording eight losses and four ties.
Although the Capitals have been eliminated from playoff contention, they have gone 3-0-2 in their last five games. Washington beat Ottawa 1-0 on Saturday, backed by 46 saves from goaltender Brent Johnson, including 16 in the final period.
“We have nine games more, we have to try to win five or six,” said Ovechkin, who has three goals and three assists in five games against Carolina this season. “We don’t have any pressure right now and we’re enjoying ourselves.”
After Monday’s game, the teams will play the next two at Washington to conclude a stretch of five matchups in two weeks.