Dec. 13 vs. Florida Panthers at BB&T Center
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio Network
Washington Capitals (17-12-2)
Florida Panthers (10-17-5)
Having won five of its last six games and three straight, Washington takes its roll on the road with a Friday night trip to take on the Florida Panthers in South Florida. It’s the second of three meetings this season between the two former Southeast Division rivals; the Caps prevailed 3-2 in a shootout when the teams first met on Nov. 2 in the District.
The Capitals’ run of three straight wins was achieved in a span of just four nights, and it has come as a result of some offensive largesse. The Caps took a 3-0 lead en route to a 5-2 win over Nashville in the District on Saturday and rolled to a 4-0 lead in Manhattan in their 4-1 win over the Rangers on Sunday. Despite falling into a 3-0 first-period hole on home ice against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday, the Caps were able to rebound for a 6-5 shootout win over the Bolts.
Caps captain Alex Ovechkin netted four goals in the Tuesday triumph over Tampa Bay, running his league-leading total to 26 in just 29 games played. Ovechkin also leads the NHL with 11 power play goals, and he has now taken over the Capitals’ all-time franchise lead with 138 career extra-man tallies, one more than Caps legend Peter Bondra.
“You always want to beat somebody,” says Ovechkin, of owning the record, “especially if you play for a club a long time. They have a history and you want to be part of the history. You get the record and you’re going to be here for a long time; maybe the rest of your life.”
Tuesday’s offensive outburst by Ovechkin was his third career four-goal game and his 13th hat trick. He is now tied with Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Gartner on Washington’s all-time list with 13 hat tricks and 397 goals. Only Bondra – with 19 hat tricks and 472 goals – is ahead of Ovechkin among all players to have ever worn the Washington sweater.
Tuesday’s game was also marked by a bit of an oddity. Caps defenseman Mike Green took four minor penalties in the first period, and he got a 10-minute misconduct tacked onto the fourth one. That means the Washington defenseman – who incurred only 20 minutes worth of penalties in his 35 games of action last season – managed to take 18 penalty minutes in the first period of Tuesday’s game.
Green came back in the second and gave the Caps 14 and a half good minutes the rest of the way, supplying the primary assist on Ovechkin’s third goal of the night, the one that made it a 4-4 game late in the second period.
“Just go out there and work hard, try to give it a little bit of a spark,” says Green, when asked about trying to rebound from a difficult first frame. “It was frustrating, but it is what it is. I had some time to cool down and then went out there and worked hard. That’s about all you can do.”
Green was also asked whether he talked to his teammates during the first intermission, after incurring the five penalties in the first.
“I just apologized,” Green says. “The boys understand. We go through this as a team sometimes and the way we responded and the team responded was great. We’ve got each other’s back and that’s what it’s all about.”
After practice at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Thursday, the Caps departed for South Florida. They brought along defenseman John Erskine, who is nearly ready to return to the lineup for the first time since Oct. 26. Erskine is expected to participate in Friday’s morning skate, and then a decision will be made as to his possible availability for the game against the Panthers.
Goaltender Michal Neuvirth, who has been sidelined since stepping on a puck in warm-ups prior to the Caps’ game against Montreal on Nov. 29, has been sent to Hershey of the AHL on a conditioning stint. Neuvirth will start on Friday for Hershey when the Bears visit Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and he may also start on Saturday when Hershey hosts Binghamton at Giant Center.
Neuvirth helped lead the Bears to back-to-back Calder Cup championships in 2009 and 2010.
Caps forward Brooks Laich did not make the trip to South Florida with his teammates, but he did skate on his own for the second straight day prior to Thursday’s practice session. There is currently no timetable for Laich’s return to the lineup.
Florida has yet to string together as many as three straight wins this season, but they have won three of their last four games going into Friday night’s contest. The Panthers’ aforementioned shootout loss at the hands of the Capitals last month came in the midst of the Cat’s deepest doldrums this season, a nine-game losing streak (0-5-4) that cost coach Kevin Dineen his job.
Dineen led the Panthers to their first playoff berth in 10 years in his first year on the job, and yet he was sacked a mere 64 games later. Florida had 94 points in its first season under his tutelage, but the team managed only 46 points in the next 64 games, a span that includes the entire lockout-abbreviated 2012-13 season (15-27-6) and the first 16 games of 2013-14 (3-9-4). Peter Horachek, who had been the bench boss for Florida’s AHL San Antonio team, took over for Dineen while the team was in the midst of a road trip early last month. The Cats are 7-8-1 in their 16 games since Horachek took the reins.
The Panthers’ roster is populated with three useful players who weren’t signed until late September of this year, and who were signed then only after strong showings that followed training camp invitations. Forward Brad Boyes was issued a training camp invitation on Sept. 10 and defenseman Tom Gilbert and goaltender Tim Thomas were both invited to camp on Sept. 16.
Thomas, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, was signed to a contract for the 2013-14 season on Sept. 26. Boyes and Gilbert were signed two days later. A third of the way through the 2013-14 season, Boyes leads the Panthers with eight goals. Gilbert is playing along with Brian Campbell on the team’s top defensive pairing and averaging 21:38 in ice time per game.
Thomas is responsible for nine of Florida’s 10 wins this season, but after sitting out all of last season of his own accord, the 39-year-old goaltender has already been sidelined twice this season with lower body injuries, sitting out a total of 10 games. He left Florida’s Thursday practice with what appears to be another lower body ailment, and the Panthers recalled goaltender Jacob Markstrom from San Antonio on Thursday night.
Thus far this season, the tandem of journeyman Scott Clemmensen and Markstrom has combined for a 1-7-4 record with a 3.51 GAA and an .872 save pct. That’s quite a bit south of what Thomas has produced for the Cats (9-10-1, 2.75, .909).