Pregame #66: Washington Capitals vs. Florida Panthers

Washington Capitals (35-20-10) at Florida Panthers (26-31-8)
BankAtlantic Center
5:00 PM
TV: Comcast SportsNet (HD) (Game On!), NHL Network
Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM
Team Promotion:  Pre-Purim Party
Previous Games:
Dec 9, 2010 FLA@WSH, 0-3 L
Jan 8, 2011 FLA@WSH, 3-2 W
Jan 11, 2011 WSH@FLA, 3-4 OTL
Games Remaining:
Apr 6, 2011 FLA@WSH, 7:00 PM
Apr 9, 2011 WSH@FLA, 7:00 PM
Former Panthers: Dennis Wideman (2010-11)
The Enemy: Litter Box Cats

The Caps are rolling into Sunrise, Florida, on a 3-game winning streak. The Capitals aren’t just winning, they are winning with panache.  The Caps new additions are fitting in nicely, especially Jason Arnott.  Arnott set up the game-tying goal with 45 seconds left in his first Caps game and then he scored the game-winning goal with 6 minutes left in his second.  New addition Dennis Wideman is playing well over 20 minutes, and Marco Sturm is starting to find his legs, too. The Caps have four solid lines now that need to take advantage of the reeling Panthers. 

The recently gutted Florida Panthers can’t buy a goal, not even against the cellar dwelling Senators, Islanders, or Devils.  The Panthers are 1-5-1 in their last 7 games and have been outscored 22-8 (not counting the goal for a shootout win).  The collapse has been in full swing for six weeks, as the Cats have only won 5 of 22games since January 17.  With the playoffs out of reach, many of the Panthers are playing for jobs next season. 

Injury Report: The Capitals are expecting D Mike Green (ear), RW Eric Fehr (shoulder), and D Tom Poti (groin) to miss tonight’s game. C Jay Beagle (upper body) has missed the last 2 games and is questionable. G Semyon Varlamov (knee) is out for a week, prompting the recall of G Braden Holtby.
-The Panthers expect to be without RW Bryon Bitz (hernia), C Shawn Matthias (ankle), RW Evgeni Dadonov (finger), C Ryan Carter (back), RW Jack Skille (ankle), and RW Rostislav Olesz (knee).

Other Note:  The Caps brought their dads along for the annual Fathers trip.  The dads will take in tonight’s game against the Cats and tomorrow’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning before heading home. 


What to watch for:

70% of the Time, It Works Every Time: The Panthers penalty kill has killed off only 72.7% of their opponents’ powerplays over the last 4 games.  If there was ever a time for the Caps’ powerplay to get back on track, this is it.  With former Panther Dennis Wideman manning the point, the Caps’ powerplay looked improved in their last game against the Blues, but they didn’t bury any of their chances.  If the Caps can keep getting shots through from the point to players parked in front, they’ll quickly have success.

Captain Awesome:  Don’t look now, but Alex Ovechkin has 4 points in 2 games since the trade deadline.  Ovie’s points per game jumped to 1.94 after the Caps acquired Sergei Fedorov in 2008, perhaps having Arnott on the second line can give him a similar boost this year and push him up the scoring leaders list.  With 17 games left, Ovie trails scoring leader Daniel Sedin by 13 points.  It’s not unfathomable to think that Ovechkin could catch him, especially if the powerplay gets back on track. 

Young Legs:  With all of the trades and injuries, the Panthers are sporting a very young lineup.  The average age of the 18 Panther skaters in their last game was 26.6. (By comparison, the Caps average age against the Blues was 28.5).  These Panthers are eager to make an impression on management for next season and they are playing hard.   The Capitals can’t afford to fall asleep at the wheel against this bunch, and Coach Bruce Boudreau is well aware of the Panthers’ effort level.  If the Caps can match the effort level, they should be able to force this young team into making mistakes.