April 9 vs. Florida Panthers at BankAtlantic Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM
Florida Panthers (29-40-12)
Washington Capitals (48-22-11)
The Washington Capitals wrap up the 2010-11 regular season with a Saturday night visit to BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla. The Caps take on the Florida Panthers in a final tune-up tilt before the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs get underway next week.
The Caps have clinched first place in the Eastern Conference standings by virtue of Philadelphia’s overtime loss at Buffalo on Friday night. That leaves Saturday’s Caps-Cats game with all the luster of a September exhibition game.
“It would be a little different,” says Caps center Jason Arnott, asked on Friday what the finale might be like if the top spot in the East wasn’t on the line. “It’s hard to say. We want to go out and just play a solid game, get together and get our lines going. We don’t want to go out and play lackadaisical; we want to play hard and finish the year off on a positive note.”
There are a few incentives for Washington on Saturday. A win in the season finale over the Panthers would give the Capitals a five-game winning streak to ride into the postseason. Washington is 16-2-1 in its last 19 games.
With a win over the Panthers, Washington would record its 24th road win of the season, matching a franchise mark established in 2009-10 for road victories in a single season.
Washington has allowed just 190 goals this season, fewest in franchise history over a full season. The 1999-00 Caps surrendered 194, so if the Capitals can limit the Panthers to three or fewer on Saturday, they’ll establish a single-season franchise benchmark in that department.
Finally, two points on Saturday would give the Caps 109 for the season. That would be the second-most ever in franchise history, trailing only the 121-point team of 2009-10.
In Wednesday’s 5-2 win over the Panthers at Verizon Center, the Capitals played without defensemen Mike Green, Tom Poti, Scott Hannan and Dennis Wideman. Green and Poti have been the team’s ice time leaders among defensemen for each of the last three seasons, and Hannan and Wideman have both averaged more than 20 minutes per night with Washington since being acquired in separate mid-season swaps.
With those four rearguards out of the lineup, AHL veteran Sean Collins stepped up for the Capitals in Wednesday’s win. Playing in the 18th game of his NHL career, he scored his second goal and logged 18:38 in ice time, the most he has ever received in a single NHL contest. Collins’ goal stood up as the game-winner at night’s end.
Recalled from AHL Hershey last week, Collins is seeing his first NHL duty in more than two years.
“I’m just taking it day-by-day, one day at a time,” says the Ohio State product. “Whenever they want to use me I’m going to go in and do my best to help out the team. I can’t really worry about when guys are coming back or anything like that. I’ve just got to try and prepare for the next day.
“I think I’ve done a pretty good job. I’ve said it before; this is a really easy group of guys to play with. They all talk a lot. There’s a lot of character in this locker room. So I’m having fun.”
Collins figures to be in the lineup again for Saturday’s game at Florida.
On Dec. 19 in Ottawa, the Capitals erased a 2-0 deficit and rebounded to earn a 3-2 win over the Senators and make a winner of netminder Michal Neuvirth. That win halted Washington’s eight-game winless streak, and it started the team on the path to a terrific second half of road hockey.
Starting with that December win in Ottawa, the Capitals are 17-6-2 in their last 25 road games. They’ve allowed just 51 goals in those 25 games for an average of 2.04 per contest. Washington has killed 75 of 87 opposition power plays in those 25 games for a kill rate of 86.2%.
Only once in its last 25 road games – and only twice in 40 road games this season – has Washington surrendered more than one power play goal against.
“I think we’ve done a much better job this year,” says Caps center Boyd Gordon of his team’s road work this season. “It’s something we’re proud of and something we need to continue – especially this time of year – if you want to win and be successful.”
Florida will be missing out on the Stanley Cup playoffs for the 10th consecutive season, a dubious NHL record. With Dale Tallon – the architect of the 2010 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks – now in place as the Panthers’ general manager, Florida hopes it is finally on the right track going forward.
Goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1, has an ailing back. That has left journeyman Scott Clemmensen to handle the lion’s share of the netminding duties as the Panthers play out the string.
Clemmensen suffered Wednesday’s loss in Washington; he is now 2-6-1 with a 3.82 GAA and an .862 save pct. lifetime against the Capitals.
Clemmensen also got the start on Friday night in Tampa Bay when the Panthers suffered a 4-2 loss at the hands of the Lightning. That was Clemmensen’s sixth straight game in the Florida nets and his fifth straight start.
Vokoun may be able to return to the nets for Saturday’s season finale.
Florida has also been playing without top scorer (49 points) Stephen Weiss, who has been bothered with a groin injury. With Weiss out of the lineup, the Cats have only five players – David Booth, Mike Santorelli, Marty Reasoner, Sergei Samsonov and Niclas Bergfors – who have as many as 10 goals this season. Santorelli netted his 20th of the season on Friday against the Lightning.
Florida heads into Saturday’s game with a 10-game losing streak (0-7-3), their longest since a 12-game skid (0-9-3) from Oct. 27-Nov. 23, 2005. The Panthers have been outscored by a combined 32-15 during the life of their current losing streak, and they’ve managed more than two goals just once in those last 10 games.
Washington is 39-0-3 when it scores three or more goals this season.
Milestone Seekers – Capitals defenseman John Carlson needs one point to claim the Caps rookie record for points in a single season for his own. With 37 points (seven goals, 30 assists) on the season, he currently shares the mark with Robert Picard (1977-78) and Greg Theberge (1981-82) … Washington forward Matt Hendricks needs one goal for his first 10-goal season in the NHL.