March 16 vs. Florida Panthers at BankAtlantic Center
Time: 7:30 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM, 106.7 FM and XM Pre-Game: Pre-Cap Podcast on www.washingtoncaps.com at 7:30 p.m.
Washington Capitals (46-14-9)
Florida Panthers (28-29-10)
The Caps continue their four-game road trip on Tuesday when they take on the Panthers in South Florida. The visit is the last of three annual trips for Washington to Sunrise.
In the trip opener in Chicago on Sunday afternoon, Washington roared back from a 3-0 third-period deficit to stun the Blackhawks with a 4-3 overtime victory. That win marked the third time this season the Caps have come back from a three-goal deficit to win a game. They also did so on their most recent visit to South Florida when they erased a 4-1 deficit on their way to a 5-4 shootout victory on Jan. 13.
Caps star left wing Alex Ovechkin was assessed a five-minute major for boarding and a game misconduct for a controversial hit on Hawks defenseman Brian Campbell in the first period of Sunday’s game. Campbell suffered a broken clavicle, and the NHL announced that it has suspended Ovechkin for the next two games. He will not be in the lineup for Tuesday’s tilt with the Panthers or Thursday’s contest with the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh.
After Ovechkin’s ejection, Caps center Nicklas Backstrom stepped up and showed a national television audience why he is one of the league’s best and most underrated players. He had a pair of goals – including the game-winner – and an assist against Chicago. The helper was his 55th of the season, enabling him to join Wayne Gretzky and Peter Stastny as just the third player in NHL history to record 55 or more assists in each of his first three seasons in the league.
Since he entered the league in 2007-08, Backstrom has the fourth most assists (176) in the NHL, trailing only Joe Thornton, Henrik Sedin and Evgeni Malkin.
Goaltender Jose Theodore earned the win in Chicago, running his record to 24-7-6 on the season. Theodore has not suffered a regulation loss in two months; he is 14-0-2 with a 2.45 GAA and a .925 save pct. during that stretch.
Theodore and Semyon Varlamov have alternated starts in the Washington goal since the Olympic break ended two weeks ago. But that rotation pattern will end on Tuesday in Florida. Theodore will get a second straight start, while Varlamov will wait until Thursday’s visit to Raleigh for his next start.
During his NHL career, Theodore is 15-11-3 with a 2.53 GAA and a .915 save pct. against the Panthers. He has three career shutouts against Florida. Theodore is even better at BankAtlantic Center. He is 9-6-1 with a 2.17 GAA, a .927 save pct. and two shutouts at the Building Formerly Known As The National Car Rental Center.
Ovechkin’s absence for the next two tilts will require some line shuffling on the part of Caps’ coach Bruce Boudreau. Since the March 3 NHL trade deadline, the Capitals have been carrying five extra players. Options to join Backstrom and Mike Knuble in Ovechkin’s vacated left wing spot include Brooks Laich, Tomas Fleischmann, Alexander Semin and Jason Chimera.
Sunday’s win was Washington’s 20th of the season on the road. With six more road games remaining this season, the Capitals are two wins shy of matching their single-season franchise record of 22 road triumphs.
Washington’s power play unit has successfully struck in each of the team’s last five games. The Caps are 7-for-20 (35%) with the extra man during that span. Washington’s 25.8% power play success rate for the season would be the best in franchise history if the Caps can maintain it over the season’s final 13 games.
Tuesday’s game starts a four-game homestand for the Cats, who just returned from a three-game tour to the Western Conference. Despite going 0-for-8 on the power play and just 2-for-5 on the penalty kill, the Cats came home with a 2-1 mark for the trip.
Florida has won four of its last five games, but it seems like a classic case of too little, too late. The Panthers haven’t made the Stanley Cup playoffs in a decade, and even with their recent run they’re still way back in the pack in 2009-10. A seven-game skid (0-6-1) preceded the Panthers’ 4-1 run.
The Cats come into Tuesday night’s game fourth in the Southeast Division standings, two points from the cellar and two points from second place. More importantly, the Panthers are 12th in the Eastern Conference standings. They are six points shy of the final playoff position, and they’ve got four teams to climb over in the 15 games they have remaining on their schedule.
Goaltender Tomas Vokoun has been one of the continual bright spots around Sunrise this season. Even when the team was skidding in February and his record was 0-5-1 for the month, Vokoun still posted respectable numbers: a 2.64 GAA and a .921 save pct. In his five March starts, he is 4-1 with a 2.35 GAA and a .923 save pct.
The Czech netminder was at his best in January when he authored four shutouts while compiling an 8-4-2 mark. Vokoun posted a 1.49 GAA and a lofty .956 save pct. in the first month of 2010.
Notes: The Caps are 6-2 without Ovechkin in their lineup this season, including 3-0 against the Panthers. Washington is 3-0 in the three games in which Ovechkin has been ejected.