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Quick hits from the morning skate: Canes-Caps

Carolina Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said he took his kids to see “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” on Wednesday, giving the much-anticipated movie mixed reviews.

He had no problem finding praise for the Washington Capitals, who have become quite the force in the NHL and face the Canes in a New Year’s Eve game.

“They’ve won nine in a row. No obvious weakness that jumps out at you that you can exploit,” Peters said Thursday after the morning skate. “Real good individual players and they play a real good team game. You better be on top of your game if you’re going to beat ‘em.”

At 28-6-2, the Caps lead the NHL with 58 points, one more than the Dallas Stars. They’re 13-3-1 on the road, having won five road games in the nine-game win streak, including a 2-1 win at PNC Arena on Dec. 21.

The Caps played at home Wednesday, topping the Buffalo Sabres 5-2. Their game Thursday against the Canes (15-17-5) begins a five-game trip.

The Caps will be without injured defenseman John Carlson and forward Jay Beagle. The availability of center Nicklas Backstrom also is unknown — the Caps did not skate Thursday.

“They just fill in the next guy and the next guy up goes in and plays real well,” Peters said. “They’ll be fine. Their team game won’t change one bit.”

-- The Canes won’t tweak their lines for the Caps. Eric Staal will be at center with Kris Versteeg and Elias Lindholm; Jordan Staal with Joakim Nordstrom and Andrej Nestrasil; Victor Rask centering Jeff Skinner and Phil Di Giuseppe, and Jay McClement with Chris Terry and Riley Nash. Brad Malone is the extra.

The defensive pairs will have John-Michael Liles with Justin Faulk, Ron Hainsey with Jaccob Slavin, and Noah Hanifin with Brett Pesce. Michal Jordan is the extra.

Eddie Lack will be the starting goalie. Lack has played just once in the past six games, making 35 saves in a 2-1 win at Chicago on Sunday.

“We’re not going to know until the end of the year exactly what we have with Eddie Lack,” Peters said. “It’s going to take the full year.”

-- Noah Hanifin isn’t playing for Team USA in the World Junior Championship but is staying well-connected.

Hanifin, who competed for the U.S. in the World Juniors last year, said he is in touch with forwards Auston Matthews and Colin White, a Hanover, Mass., native who is playing at Boston College and a close friend of Hanifin’s. Another friend is defenseman Zach Werenski, the U.S captain who plays at Michigan.

While Canada is the defending champion and Finland the home favorite as the host of the World Juniors, Hanifin said the Russian team could be one to watch. Russia ousted the U.S. in the quarterfinals last year, winning 3-2 as Canes prospect Sergey Tolchinsky had the winning goal.

Canes defensive prospects Haydn Fleury and Roland McKeown are playing for Canada this year and goalie Alex Nedeljkovic for the U.S. Forward Sebastian Aho, a second-round pick by the Canes in the 2015 NHL draft, has been one of the Finnish stars with three goals and four assists in the first three games.

Canes general manager Ron Francis said he would be leaving Friday to attend the World Juniors.

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