Pregame #82: Washington Capitals vs. Florida Panthers

Washington Capitals (48-22-11) at Florida Panthers (29-39-12)*
Location: BankAtlantic Center
7:00 PM
TV: Comcast SportsNet (HD) (Game On!)
Radio:  1500AM, 820 AM, and XM
Team Promotion:  Fan Appreciation Night
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
Mar 6, 2011 WSH@FLA, 3-2 W
Apr 6, 2011 FLA@WSH, 5-2 W
Games Remaining: None
Know The Enemy:  Litter Box Cats

Read on!

The Eastern Conference-leading Washington Capitals are 15-2-1 since February 26 and beat the Florida Panthers 5-2 in their last game on Wednesday night.  The only real question will be how many regulars Coach Bruce Boudreau decides to sit out.  The Caps will be gearing up for the playoffs, but they need to maintain focus on one more game, which is another reason to sit out regulars and play spare parts like D.J. King, Jay Beagle, and Tyler Sloan, who will definitely bring the energy for every single game they play. 

While the Capitals play two consecutive games against the injury-plagued Panthers, the Cats play their penultimate game Friday night in Tampa against the playoff-bound Lightning.  One could expect the Panthers to be tired and emotionally drained the night after such a grudge match at the end of another disappointing campaign, but with all of the youngsters in the lineup, expect more spunk from the team that scored 2 goals in less than 5 minutes in the third period on Wednesday.  The Caps can’t afford a defensive lapse in a game that could clinch the Eastern Conference crown for them. 

Injury Report:  Capitals’ defensemen Mike Green (head) is expected to make his return.  Dennis Wideman (leg hematoma), and Tom Poti (groin) are out.  RW Alex Semin (undisclosed) has missed the Caps’ last 2 games and is day-to-day. 
-The Panthers expect to be without C Ryan Carter (concussion), RW Rostislav Olesz (knee), C Scott Timmins (concussion), RW Steve Bernier (shoulder), and RW Bryon Bitz (hernia).  G Tomas Vokoun (back spasms), C Stephen Weiss (groin), LW Darcy Hordichuk (groin) and D Alexander Sulzer (groin/hip) are questionable. 

Three Things To Watch For:

Green Machine:  Capitals defenseman Mike Green is expected to make his return to the lineup for the regular season finale.  Green has been practicing hard over the last month as he recovers from a concussion, he even practiced in Hershey on Thursday while the Caps had the day off.  Expect Green to show a little rust in his first game since February 25, but he should be well-rested and ready to contribute on offense.  This will be Green’s first season not leading the Caps defense in scoring since 2007-08, but he still ranks second behind only John Carlson despite missing 32 games.  He should be a big contributor for the Caps when the playoffs start. 

Knuble in a China shop:  Caps RW Mike Knuble seems to get better with age, like a fine wine.  He hasn’t posted the gaudy numbers he did last year, but he’s been better this year in many other ways.  Expect the veteran power-forward to keep attacking the enemy cage with reckless abandon and the dirty goals the Caps will desperately need when the tight-checking Eastern Conference playoffs start.  For tonight, expect Knuble to keep sticking his nose in places where it is not welcome, and getting a goal or two in the process.  Kudos to Rock the Red reader Caps91 for calling a 24-goal season for Knuble back in August.

Booth Isolation:  Panthers winger David Booth has been a thorn in the Caps’ side this season, with 3 goals and 5 points in 5 games.  Don’t expect the Panthers’ leading goal scorer to be less of a threat Saturday night in Sunrise as he looks to close out the season on a high note.  Booth has a solid frame that makes him hard to control in the slot and he has a wicked release that is difficult for goalies to pick up, making him a dangerous sniper.  Look for Booth to be a major factor in the Panthers’ attack again tonight.