Pregame #5: Washington Capitals vs Florida Panthers

Washington Capitals (4-0-0) vs. Florida Panthers (3-1-0)
Verizon Center
7:00 PM
TV: Local: Comcast SportsNet (HD) (Game On!)
Games Remaining:
Dec  5, 2011 WSH@FLA, 7:30 PM
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)
Former Panthers:  Dennis Wideman (61 GP, 2010-11), Tomas Vokoun (244 GP, 2007-11)
Opposing Viewpoints:  Litter Box Cats

Check out the new Panthers!

The still-perfect Washington Capitals face a serious test against a Southeast Division opponent tonight.  If the first four games were a display of the Caps still working out their kinks and Alex Ovechkin slumping, the rest of the season is very promising.  The Caps are scoring with regularity, they are playing solidly in all three zones, and they are banging bodies on the forecheck.  Look for more of the same tonight as a motivated team looks to build on their early-season divisional lead.  With Michal Neuvirth still on the shelf, former Panther Tomas Vokoun is likely to get the start again. 
Update:  G Dany Sabourin has been recalled from Hershey to back-up Vokoun.  It also appears as though LW D.J. King is out and C Mathieu Perreault is in tonight.

These aren’t your daddy’s Panthers.  Florida General Manager Dale Tallon has almost completely overhauled the roster since February, bringing a much needed boost to the team’s speed, offense, and experience, not to mention Capital domination with the addition of Sean Bergenheim.  There was obviously a downgrade in goal now that Vokoun is in DC, but the Panthers still have a veteran presence in net.  With the first-ranked powerplay (32.0%) and the 4th-ranked penalty-kill (91.7%), the Panthers’ special teams have gotten off to an exceptional start.  The Cats are also tied for 3rd in the NHL at 3.25 goals per game, just behind league-leading Washington’s 3.5.   That offense is aided by the team firing the 4th most shots per game (33.2).  After sweeping a home-and-home series over the Lightning by a combined score of 10-6, all signs point to the Panthers being a major threat to DC’s Southeast Division dominance.  
Update: Corey Masisak reports rookie G Jacob Markstrom might start in net for the Panthers tonight.

Injury Report: Capitals’ D John Erskine (shoulder surgery) is out.  G Michal Neuvirth (foot) and RW Jay Beagle (face) are questionable.
-For the Panthers, C Mike Santorelli (shoulder) backup goalie Scott Clemmensen (knee surgery) are on injured reserve.  

Three Things To Watch For:

Capital South:  Chances are you’ll need a program for most of the new faces on the Panthers roster, but some of the names only recently switched from Red to Orange.  Forwards Tomas Fleischmann (3 points in 4 games this season) and Matt Bradley (4 GP) played for the Caps last year and expected starter Jose Theodore (3-1-0, 1 shutout) played for the Caps as recently as 2010, when he won the Masterton Trophy for perseverance and determination.  If you consider the Caps feature two Panthers from last year (Vokoun, 3-0) and Wideman (4 points in 4 games), there should be a lot of familiarity on both benches for this matchup. 

Lockdown Mode:  The Washington Capitals have had issues with allowing late goals over the past few seasons, but their defensive system got the job done on Saturday night against the Senators.  The Caps stopped all 3 Senators powerplays and the only goal allowed was on a bad-angle shot late in the first period.  Tomas Vokoun stopped all 26 shots after the goal and the Capitals were able to hold a 2-1 lead for two periods against a team with a good offense.  If the Caps can get offense from their top two centers regularly and play the kind of defense Coach Bruce Boudreau has been preaching, they should be able to beat any team in the league.

Miami Weiss:  For the first 8 seasons of his NHL career, center Stephen Weiss has toiled in relative obscurity in South Florida, playing second fiddle to Olli Jokinen until 2008, then playing #1 center on a weak Panthers team.  The 4th overall pick in the 2001 Entry Draft, Weiss had played 557 NHL games before this season without making the playoffs, posting a respectable if not overwhelming 127 goals and 333 points along the way.   Finally, with puck moving defensemen behind him, reliable scoring wingers to pass to, and a potent powerplay, Weiss is poised to break out in a big way.   Even though his career high in points was only 61 back in 2008-09, Weiss is going to be a major scoring threat this season and should be close to a point per game all season.  Look for his wingers, Kris Versteeg (7 points in 4 GP) and Tomas Fleischmann, to have career years along the way, too.