Feb 12 vs. Florida Panthers at BankAtlantic Center
Time: 7:30 pm
TV: Comcast Sports Network
Radio: 106.7 The Fan and Caps Radio Network
Florida Panthers (4-6-1)
Washington Capitals (3-8-1)
Washington starts a three-game road trip with the first of its two visits to South Florida this season. The Capitals are in Sunrise on Tuesday night to take on the Panthers in the second of three straight Southeast Division battles.
The Caps and Cats went head-to-head on Saturday night in Washington when the Capitals skated off with a much-needed 5-0 victory over the Panthers. The Caps turned in their best 60-minute effort of the season up and down the lineup in Saturday’s triumph. Ten different Caps etched their names onto the scoresheet, and all four lines were noticeably involved.
Goaltender Braden Holtby made a few strong stops early to keep the Panthers in check until the offense could get rolling, and he finished with 27 stops and the fourth shutout of his NHL career. Holtby was also one of the 10 players who found the scoresheet; he threaded a perfect outlet pass to Troy Brouwer on a Caps power play to earn the second assist of his NHL career.
“I’m obviously glad we won,” says Caps coach Adam Oates, “and it’s nice to see some guys get goals that needed a little bonus. We did a lot of good things. But in the last couple of weeks, all I’ve been stressing is playing correctly. We did that. I think if we play that way we’re going to win our share of games.
“That’s the correct way to play. We can’t let one game get to our heads. These guys are pros. You bounce back, you enjoy it. [Tuesday] we have another game to play.”
Even with the win over Florida on Saturday, the Caps are still buried in the basement of the NHL’s Eastern Conference standings. But if they can follow it up with another regulation win over the Panthers on Tuesday in Sunrise, they’ll draw even with Florida in the standings.
Although they’ve won just three of their first dozen games of the season, the Caps are a mere five points off the leading pace in the NHL’s Southeast Division. The Tampa Bay Lightning are currently setting that pace, and the Caps visit the Bolts on Thursday in the second stop of their journey.
After returning from a humbling loss to the Penguins in Pittsburgh last Thursday, the Capitals held a players-only meeting on Friday. Washington managed to eliminate many of the mistakes that had been previously plaguing its game in Saturday’s win over the Panthers.
“I think it’s guys just having pride in their game,” says Caps right wing Troy Brouwer, “having pride in themselves and wanting to go out and be better than the shift that was out there just before them. And if the shift was in our own zone, then okay. Let’s move the next shift into the neutral zone and try to get into the offensive zone. Try to create some opportunities and try to create some enthusiasm in our game.
“We need that healthy competition between our lines to try and outdo one another and be better, work harder. I think that’s going to elevate our game to get some wins. “
The next task is to win on the road. The Caps are 0-4-1 away from Verizon Center this season, and the team’s five-game winless run is the team’s longest since it dropped nine straight (0-7-2) on the road late in the 2006-07 season, from March 6-31, 2007.
“We just need to continue with momentum and let the snowball build,” says Caps right wing Eric Fehr. “When this team gets to feeling good about itself, I think we’re pretty dangerous. We’ve just got to start getting lines scoring and getting confident. If we get confident, then we’re going to be a much better team.”
Washington played a dozen games in just 22 nights to start the season. After taking Sunday off, the Caps practiced on Monday before heading to South Florida. Since starting the season with three straight losses, the Caps have done a better job of adhering to Oates’ system.
“Our system is to be aggressive and force turnovers,” notes Fehr. “If you have guys sitting back, even one or two guys on the line, it breaks our whole unit up and we don’t have the same chemistry and that’s when [bad] stuff happens. I think we’ve got to just stay aggressive and force pucks and stay in the other team’s end.”
“I think it’s just important to stick with the system. Our system is meant for all five players to be on the same page and if we have two or three guys off it’s not going to work. It’s just important that we stay with it and play as a team.”
A quarter of the way through the 2012-13 season, the Caps figure it’s time to build off Saturday’s win, get a road victory and start that first winning streak of the season.
“I think any win at this point is what we’re looking for,” said Caps goalie Braden Holtby after Saturday’s win. “Anything less is not acceptable. We’ve already given ourselves a big enough hole with being complacent. Right now, we’re not going to let off the gas for the rest of the year. That’s our plan and we’re going to do it.”
Holtby made 27 saves on Saturday to earn the fourth shutout of his NHL career. He will start again for Washington against the Panthers on Tuesday.
Brouwer’s power-play goal against Florida in Saturday’s game gives Washington a run of four straight games with at least one extra-man tally. The last time the Caps had such a streak was when they scored at least one power-play strike in four straight from Dec. 30, 2011 to Jan. 7, 2012, going 5-for-7 (71.4%) with the extra man during that stretch.
Florida’s loss to the Caps in Washington on Saturday halted a four-game points streak (3-0-1) for the Panthers. The loss came in the final game of the Panthers’ four-game road trip, a journey on which the Cats forged a 2-1-1 record.
Now Florida starts a four-game homestand with Tuesday night’s tilt against the Capitals. The Panthers are 2-2 on home ice this season, and either Florida or its foe has scored five or more goals in each of those four games.
The Panthers won two of the three games played between the two teams in South Florida last season. Since winning all three games in Florida during the 2009-10 season, the Caps are 2-3-1 in their last six visits to BankAtlantic Center.