Nov. 2 vs. Florida Panthers at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio Network
Florida Panthers (3-8-2)
Washington Capitals (6-7)
With its season-long five-game road journey now in the rear view, Washington returns home for a three-game homestand. First up are the Florida Panthers, who will be facing the Capitals as a non-divisional opponent for the first time in their history. Florida and Washington had been co-occupants of the Atlantic Division and later the Southeast Division for the last 19 seasons.
The Caps ended up their trip with a 3-2 mark, finishing up the road run with a 7-0 spanking of the Flyers in Philadelphia on Friday night. The Capitals are now finishing off their first set of games on back-to-back nights tonight with the Panthers in town. This set of back-to-backs is the first of four such sets of contests in the month of November for Washington.
“We need to get right back on the horses,” said Caps left wing Jason Chimera after the win in Philly on Friday. “It was one of those things where you have a good win here and you play well, but you have to get back at it tomorrow. We can enjoy tonight and then let it go tomorrow and get to work tomorrow.”
Once the back-to-backs start to stack up, it starts to feel like hockey season.
“It does,” agrees Caps right wing Troy Brouwer. “Last year we were kind of thrown right into it where we had a lot of back-to-backs, a lot of three-in-fours, with travel, things like that. But the first month of the season, it’s always a little bit slower; [we have] one, two games a week. But now we’re in the mix of it. We’ve got back-to-backs for the first time [this weekend] and we’re excited about it.”
“I don’t mind one or two of them,” says Caps right wing Eric Fehr of the back-to-back sets. “It’s tough when you have back-to-backs with travel. But it’s part of the game. We’ve all done it growing up; you used to play two games in a day. You get used to that. Once you get into the feel of playing games, you almost get into a better rhythm. I find that you can get hot and really start to heat up as a team when you’re playing a lot of games.”
Caps goaltender Braden Holtby notched his first shutout of the season on Friday night in Philadelphia – and his first career win in four starts at Wells Fargo Center –and he got plenty of offensive support. Playing in their first game without captain Alex Ovechkin (upper body injury) since Feb. 22, 2012, the Caps got a hat trick from Joel Ward (his first in the NHL), two goals from Nicklas Backstrom, and single markers from Chimera and Brouwer.
Washington is now 12-8-2 and has outscored its opponents by a combined total of 78-66 in the 22 games Ovechkin has missed during the course of his nine-year NHL career. With 15 points (four goals, 11 assists), Backstrom is now tied with Ovechkin for the team lead.
Ovechkin is listed as day-to-day, and he is not expected to play against the Panthers on Saturday.
Chimera has now scored in four straight games, the longest such streak of his 723-game NHL career. He and linemates Ward and Mikhail Grabovski have combined for 11 goals and 23 points in six games since Caps coach Adam Oates put the trio together for Washington’s Oct. 19 game against Columbus at Verizon Center. At least one member of the unit has scored in each of the six games.
The Capitals now have six players who have reached the double-digit level in points this season. No other team has more; San Jose and Toronto also boast six players with double-digit point totals.
With an average of exactly three goals per game this season, the Capitals are tied for 11th in the NHL in that department. Washington has surrendered an average of 2.92 goals per contest, tied for 21st in the circuit.
Through 13 games, the Caps have the league’s second-best penalty-killing corps (91.7% kill rate) and third-best power play (25% success rate). Washington has killed off 30 straight opposition power plays and has not allowed an extra-man tally in its last eight games, its’ longest such streak since the tail end of the 2001-02 season.
With Holtby backstopping Friday night’s win in Philly, it’s likely that Washington will go with Michal Neuvirth on Saturday night against the Panthers. Neuvirth’s last start at Verizon Center came on April 25 against Ottawa, a 2-1 overtime loss. He is 2-3-1 with a 2.90 GAA and a .910 save pct. in nine career appearances (eight starts) against Florida.
Washington is 17-4-1 against the Panthers over the last four seasons. They’ve outscored the Cats by a combined 87-51 in those 22 games.
Florida’s season followed a bit of a pattern over the team’s first dozen games, but the Cats broke the script on Friday night with a 4-0 home ice loss to the St. Louis Blues in South Florida.
The Panthers won their first game of the 2013-14 season on Oct. 3 in Dallas, then lost three straight. Then they won one, then lost three straight. A third win was followed by another three losses in succession, but they pulled points in two of the setbacks by pushing them both into overtime and then falling in the shootout.
Friday’s loss ended the pattern, and saddled the Panthers with a four-game losing streak (0-2-2) as they reach the District for their only visit of the season.
The Panthers have tallied only five first-period goals this season while surrendering 13 in the game’s first frame. Only Carolina (four) and Buffalo (two) have fewer first-period goals than Florida. The Cats have been outscored by a combined 19-7 in the second period of their 12 games to date this season.
Florida netminder Tim Thomas is on injured reserve and Jacob Markstrom started an lost Friday night’s home game against St. Louis. He is now 1-5-2 with a 3.29 GAA and an .881 save pct. on the season.
Veteran journeyman Scott Clemmensen is expected to draw the starting assignment for the Panthers on Saturday in Washington. He is 4-7-2 lifetime against the Capitals with a 3.90 GAA and an .858 save pct. in 20 career appearances (14 starts). In 12 lifetime outings (eight starts) at Verizon Center, Clemmensen is 1-6 with a 3.85 GAA and an .856 save pct.
Ex-Capital Tomas Fleischmann is Florida’s leading scorer with nine points (two goals, seven assists) this season.