January 27 vs. Florida Panthers at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Capitals Report/Pre-Cap Podcast at 2 p.m. and Two-Man Advantage Pre-Game Show at 6:15 on www.washingtoncaps.com
Florida Panthers (23-21-9)
Washington Capitals (35-12-6)
Two nights after a 5-1 win over Anaheim pushed the Capitals’ winning streak to eight – matching their longest winning spree in more than a quarter century – Washington hosts the first victim of its current run. The Caps started their streak against the Panthers in Florida on Jan. 15, and they'll seek to extend it to nine vs. the Panthers at Verizon Center on Friday night.
Friday’s game against the Panthers is the middle match of a three-game homestand that concludes – along with the January portion of the schedule – on Sunday with a visit from the Tampa Bay Lightning.
With wins in 11 of their last 12 games and an 11-2 mark in January, the Caps are also a win shy of matching the club standard for most victories in a single month. Washington went 12-2-2 in December, 1984.
Most NHL teams would be in a pickle if they were forced to dress the No. 3 and 4 goaltenders on their preseason depth charts for regular season games. But with veteran Jose Theodore and rookie Semyon Varlamov, the Caps had to turn to 21-year-old freshman Michal Neuvirth and 20-year-old back-up Braden Holtby as their netminding duo for Wednesday’s game against the Ducks.
Washington is the only team in the NHL that has three goaltenders with five or more wins. Theodore has 16, Varlamov 12 and Neuvirth seven. Holtby has yet to grace the ice for a regular season NHL game, but he has rolled up an impressive 22-4-2-3 record in combined AHL (15 wins) and ECHL (seven victories) this season, his first as a pro.
Theodore is 7-1 with a 2.32 GAA and a .930 save pct. this month. He is day-to-day with a lower body injury. Varlamov hasn’t played in the NHL since suffering a lower body injury of his own in a 3-0 whitewashing of the Lightning in Tampa on Dec. 7. He is 12-1-2 with a 2.21 GAA and a .924 save pct. on the season.
Neuvirth has drawn as many as three straight starts a couple times this season, and he won three straight in mid-December. Pulled from two straight starts – including the game at Florida that began the Caps’ current streak – Neuvirth has settled down to stop 69 of 72 shots (.958) he has faced in his last three outings (two starts).
Neuvirth also had difficulty against the Cats when he faced them last March. In two career games (one start) against Florida, he has a 5.16 GAA and an .806 save pct.
The Capitals took Thursday off, but Theodore has been deemed healthy enough to suit up on Friday against Florida. With a 21-point cushion over the Cats in the Southeast Division standings, certainly the Caps could have taken a look at Holtby this weekend if they had chosen to do so. Instead, they returned the Saskatchewan native to Hershey on Thursday.
In 53 games this season, Washington has rolled up a plus-46 goal differential in 5-on-5 play. The team’s 1.56 for/against ratio in 5-on-5 play is tops in the league, and tops by far among Eastern Conference teams. The Capitals have outscored their opponents by a combined 40-18 during the eight-game winning streak, and they’ve scored at least one power play goal in seven straight games, the team’s longest such streak in more than a year.
During the life of their winning streak, the Caps are clicking at a 37% rate on the power play and are at 86.5% in the penalty-killing department.
After facing and defeating four upper echelon foes (Philadelphia, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Phoenix) last week, Washington is charged with the task of taking on four surging playoff hopeful teams this week.
The Islanders were 7-3 in their previous 10 games before Washington downed them 7-2 on Tuesday. Anaheim was 8-3 in its previous 11 before losing to the Capitals on Wednesday.
The Panthers are also hot. Despite scoring more than two goals only twice in their last seven games, the Cats are 5-1-1 during that stretch.
Florida is making the last of its three annual visits to Verizon Center this season. The Panthers came up empty on each of their previous trips to the District, falling by scores of 7-4 on Nov. 7 and 6-2 on Dec. 2. The Caps have also taken the first two tilts between the two teams in South Florida this season, so the Cats are seeking their first victory over Washington since the final game of the 2008-09 regular season.
The Cats have been riding goaltender Tomas Vokoun of late; he has made 13 straight starts in the Florida goal. The Panthers’ most recent game was a 2-1 win over Montreal on Tuesday, so he should be rested and ready to make it 14 successive starts on Friday against the Capitals. He is 7-10-1 with a 2.45 GAA and a .925 save pct. lifetime against Washington. This season, Vokoun is 0-1-1 with a 3.43 GAA and an .885 save pct. in a pair of starts against the Caps.
Vokoun’s .931 save pct. is second best in the NHL this season, as are his six shutouts. With two of Florida’s top offensive players (Nathan Horton and David Booth) on the sidelines, Vokoun’s play has been instrumental in keeping the Cats close to the pack in the chase for playoff positioning.
Booth, who suffered a concussion when he was on the receiving end of a controversial hit from Philadelphia’s Mike Richards on Oct. 24, has been practicing with the Panthers this week and may be nearing a return after more than three months on the sidelines.
Florida is just 6-for-43 (14%) on the power play in its last 15 games. The Panthers’ penalty killing corps has been stellar this month, successfully killing off 27 of its 30 (90%) missions.