Pregame #26: Washington Capitals at Florida Panthers

Washington Capitals (13-11-1) at Florida Panthers (14-8-4)
Location:  BankAtlantic Center
Time:  7:30 PM
TV: Comcast SportsNet (HD) (Game On!), NHL Network
Radio:  1500AM, 820 AM, and XM
Previous Games:
Oct 18, 2011 FLA@WSH, 3-0 W
Games Remaining:
Feb 1, 2012 WSH@FLA, 8:00 PM
Feb 7, 2012 FLA@WSH, 7:00 PM
Feb 17, 2012 WSH@FLA, 7:30 PM
Apr 5, 2012 FLA@WSH, 7:00 PM
Familiar Faces of Former Capitals: G Jose Theodore (104 GP, 2008-10), RW Matt Bradley (427 GP, 2005-11), LW Tomas Fleischmann (283 GP, 2005-10), LW Marco Sturm (18 GP, 2010)
Former Panthers:  Dennis Wideman (61 GP, 2010-11), Tomas Vokoun (244 GP, 2007-11)
Opposing Viewpoints:
Litter Box Cats

Who’s got the wrong goalie on their homepage?
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The Washington Capitals finally got back into the win column on Saturday night, gutting out a 3-2 overtime victory over the visiting Ottawa Senators. Now new Head Coach Dale Hunter will coach his first NHL game on the road in sunny South Florida.  In a surprise move, Hunter opted not to start his veteran goaltender, so Tomas Vokoun’s homecoming will consist merely of visiting his family and watching the game from the bench.  Michal Neuvirth was impressive in Saturday’s win over Ottawa, which must be the impetus for him getting the start.  The good news for the Capitals is their defense is much stronger of late, as they have been able to hold opponents to 2 goals in each of their games under Dale Hunter.  They have killed off all 8 opposing powerplays and the penalty trend is good, too, as they killed off 4, then 3, then 1 powerplay.  The bad news for the Caps is that they’ve scored just 4 goals in 3 games in regulation and are 0/7 on the powerplay, though the PP trend is positive, too, as they only had 1 brief PP in game 1, then 2, then 4 against Ottawa.  The Caps have been physical, they’ve been blocking shots, and they are starting to bring their giveaways under control.  In short, the Capitals are transitioning into Hunter’s team, a defense-oriented, counter-punching squad with a high battle quotient.  It will be interesting to see what can happen if the Caps can start burying their chances, as they could have easily had 7 goals against the Senators. 

The Florida Panthers have found themselves atop the Southeast Division as the Capitals have been busy finding themselves again.  The Cats have surprisingly been winning their games with a potent offense, as Kris Versteeg (28 points), Tomas Fleischmann (27), and Stephen Weiss (26) are all in the top 20 in league scoring.  The goaltending hasn’t been half-bad, either, as former Cap Jose Theodore has a 10-5-3 record with a .924 save percentage and a 2.28 goals against average.  The off-season changes made by Panthers GM Dale Tallon are working, and the architect of the 2010 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks appears to be building another winner in South Florida. 

Injury Report:   Capitals’ D Mike Green (groin) and RW Jay Beagle (head) are out.  D Roman Hamrlik (lower body) and RW Alexander Semin (shoulder) are day-to-day. 
-For the Panthers, RW Matt Bradley (upper body), RW Mikael Samuelsson (groin), RW Scottie Upshall (upper body), C Marcel Goc (head) are out. 

Three Things To Watch For:

Here’s Johnny:  Capitals defenseman John Carlson has been thriving under new coach Dale Hunter.  Hunter, who coached Carlson in London, has been throwing the 21-year old over the boards with increasing regularity, and Carlson has been averaging nearly 25 minutes per game since the coaching change and seeing plenty of ice in all situations, usually while paired with Karl Alzner.  The right-handed defender picked up a helper on Nick Backstrom’s goal against Ottawa and should stand to see his production increase with the added ice time. 

Garrison Alert:  Panthers defender Jason Garrison has been scoring goals in bunches this season.  The 27-year old rearguard has already more than doubled his career production with 8 goals, the best among NHL defensemen.  His 12 points is through 26 games is impressive, but his +11 is even more so.  The 6’2 lefty has been scoring big goals, too.  Twice he has scored the first goal of the game, he has two game winners, 6 road goals, 4 powerplay goals, and 2 game-winners.  While Brian Campbell is the quarterback, with 18 assists and 20 points, Garrison gives the Panthers a real double-threat from the point.

No Semin: It might not be a coincidence that the Capitals only registered one penalty on the night they scratched Alexander Semin and Roman Hamrlik, but don’t count on it. With a better defensive system in place and more emphasis on discipline and hard work, the Caps should be able to handle their defensive zone and neutral zone coverages with far less trouble. Without certain forwards on the ice, the offensive zone penalties should drop considerably, too.