RALEIGH — To say the Carolina Hurricanes played with a bit of a patchwork lineup Monday against the Washington Capitals would be accurate.
To say it didn't matter also would be accurate.
The Canes frustrated and beat the Caps all over the RBC Center ice, rolling to a 5-0 victory to start a critical six-game homestand.
Eric Staal, who's playing his best hockey of the season, had two goals and an assist while goaltender Justin Peters notched the first shutout of his NHL career with 17 saves.
"That's a nice way to start," Canes coach Kirk Muller said. "I think our guys were aware of how big tonight's game was and (against) a team we're trying to catch.
"We came out hard. We were focused and it was a good performance by everybody."
With Cam Ward out with a lower-body injury, Peters started in goal for the Canes. Mike Murphy, called up Sunday from the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL, was the backup. Forwards Jerome Samson and Drayson Bowman, who have spent most of the season in Charlotte, again were in the lineup. Derek Joslin, who has spent much of the season at defenseman for the Canes, again was a fourth-line forward.
But the Canes (23-26-11) were the quicker, hungrier team. Staal scored shorthanded and defenseman Justin Faulk on the power play. Anthony Stewart, Andreas Nodl and Staal had even-strength goals for the Canes, who led 3-0 after the first period and 4-0 after two.
"I went out there before the game and the building was full," Staal said. "I think there was a little bit of excitement with that and we were ready to go off the bat."
Peters made a good early save on a Mike Knuble shot and was steady the rest of the way. The Caps (29-25-5), who have lost their past two, didn't get a lot of good offensive chances and often misfired when they did - Alexander Semin fanned on an open shot late in the second period.
Alex Ovechkin had just one shot on goal in a minus-2 game, muttering at times on the bench.
"It was a full 60 minutes for us," Peters said. "Everybody talked about being ready from the drop of the puck and it's safe to say we were." Joslin, displaying toughness, was involved in two second-period fights with the Caps' Matt Hendricks. Faulk, a 19-year-old rookie, made his NHL fighting debut in the second against forward Troy Brouwer and got his punches in.
"It was all right, it was fun," Faulk said, smiling.
And the game?
"It was fun, it was a good atmosphere," Faulk said. "It's nice to show up like that as a team."
Faulk delivered the first blow with his power-play score three minutes and 41 seconds into the game, and Stewart and Nodl both scored off well-executed rushes. Jiri Tlusty's steal led to Stewart scoring, and Nodl finished off a three-on-two rush with 29.6 seconds left in the first period for the 3-0 lead.
Stewart's goal, barely five minutes into the game, ended the night for Caps goalie Tomas Vokoun. He was relieved by Michal Neuvirth, who had 30 saves. Staal struck six minutes into the second for his first goal - the 12th shorthanded goal of his career, breaking the franchise record held by Dave Tippett.
On the Caps' power play, the puck got past a fallen Dennis Wideman at the blue line. Staal had a breakaway and easily beat Neuvirth.
Staal, who assisted on Stewart's goal, now has 18 goals for the season and 29 points in the past 22 games.
"He's a horse right now," Muller said. "When he goes, the whole team goes and he's really elevated his game the last three weeks."
Staal's second goal came six minutes into the third, on a pass from Jaroslav Spacek.
Staal and Tlusty, who had two assists, both extended point streaks - Tlusty to eight games, a team-high this season, and Staal to six. Carolina, fighting to get into the playoff mix in the NHL's Eastern Conference, began the homestand with uncertainty about Ward, the Canes' star goaltender.
Ward started Saturday against the New York Islanders but left the game after the second period. Muller said Monday morning he hoped Ward would be able to return for the Canes' next game Thursday against Anaheim. With Ward unavailable Monday, Peters again got the call.
"I felt pretty comfortable," Peters said. "I'm just trying to gain confidence with every opportunity I get."
Odds are, he'll be getting more.