October 18 vs. Florida Panthers at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 1500AM, XM and Caps Radio Network Pre-Game: Morning Skate Report at 1:00 p.m., Pre-Cap Podcast at 2 p.m., Two-Man Advantage pre-game video at 5 p.m., John Walton’s one-on-one with Bruce Boudreau at 5 p.m., all on washingtoncaps.com
Florida Panthers (3-1)
Washington Capitals (4-0)
Playing four of their first five games and five of their first seven games of the 2011-12 NHL season on home ice, it’s no wonder the Capitals are off to a swift start at 4-0. Tuesday’s Southeast Division game with the Florida Panthers is the fourth of those five contests on the Verizon Center sheet. Washington is 108-30-20 on home ice since Bruce Boudreau took over as the team’s coach just under four years ago.
This season’s 4-0 start overall has matched the 1991-92 and 1997-98 Capitals for the best in franchise history. All four victories have come by the slimmest of margins, and only one was achieved in regulation time. The Caps know they can play better, but they also know that they are – along with Detroit – one of only two NHL teams that has yet to suffer a loss of any kind.
“It’s good when you win four games in a row,” says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin, “but sometimes when you see the replay of how we play you say, ‘Geez, we have to play better.’ And we all know we can play better. It’s just the beginning of the year, only four games. We know everything is going to be good for us.”
Goaltender Tomas Vokoun has given his team great netminding for the past two-plus games. Vokoun has stopped 77 of the last 80 shots he has faced, dating back to the start of last Monday’s overtime session against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He is philosophical about his team’s swift start this season.
“It’s great,” says Vokoun. “Saying that, we know there’s parts of our game [where] we have to be better. We’re working on it; we worked on it [in practice on Monday] for a long time.
“Nobody’s perfect. We’ve scored timely goals, and when we needed it we got a blocked shot or we got a save. Is everything perfect? Probably not. On the other hand, the season is starting and you don’t want to peak in the first two weeks.
“I think there is common sense here. We all go through video every day after the game and see what mistakes happen and we try to correct them. I don’t think you should be complaining when you have four wins out of four games.”
Most recently, the Caps authored a 2-1 home ice win over the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night. The Caps got goals from Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson in the first frame, then held on the rest of the way.
Washington has allowed just two even-strength goals in its last two games.
“I don’t think you find anybody ever completely happy with the way they play,” says Boudreau. “You’re happy that you won. And when you start getting unhappy when you win, then you’re setting yourself up for an unhappy time because you’re eventually going to lose a game and you’re certainly not going to be happy when you lose.
“So enjoy the wins, but make the adjustments you have to make while you’re winning rather than making the adjustments while you’re losing.”
Washington is 4-for-16 (25%) on the power play and is 11-for-14 (78.6%) on the penalty kill.
Florida comes to town with a 3-1 mark and is in position to move into a tie with Washington for the Southeast Division lead with a regulation win over the host Capitals on Tuesday.
Vokoun played for the Panthers for the last four seasons, but he has little emotion going up against a team that barely resembles the one he played for.
“It’s a divisional game and obviously it’s two points,” says Vokoun. “From coaches to players, there’s not really many people left out of the team I played for.”
Vokoun is right. Only six of the players who suited up for the 2010-11 Panthers season opener wore the Florida sweater for this season’s opening night contest.
Florida has new coaches and an entirely new look on the ice.
“We’ll have tapes of them,” says Boudreau, “like we prepare for every other team. It’s something where we haven’t had a chance really to look at them too much yet because we haven’t played them and we’ve had other teams that we’ve had to focus on that we haven’t played yet, either.
“[Monday] we’ll be watching Florida. You know, we do a lot of watching of ourselves to improve ourselves and get our game to where it is and then we worry about the opposition.”
Florida is fresh off a 7-4 spanking of the Lightning in Tampa Bay on Monday. The Panthers spoiled the Bolts’ home opener after Tampa Bay won just one game on a season-opening five-game road trip.
Six of Florida’s seven strikes against the Lightning came via special teams – five on the power play and one shorthanded. Stephen Weiss and Kris Versteeg each scored twice and Brian Campbell had four assists to make a winner out of ex-Caps goalie Jose Theodore.
Florida had the league’s worst power play last season with a success rate of just 13.1 percent. The Cats have already scored eight power play goals this season; they lead the league in that category and are second with a 32% success rate. The Panthers finished last season with just 35 power play goals.
Monday night’s outburst of five power play goals matches a Florida single-game franchise record. The Cats had five power play goals in an Oct. 25, 1996 game against the New York Rangers and matched that feat on Dec. 9, 1998 against Ottawa.
Theodore has started and gone the distance in each of Florida’s four games to date. Whether he gets the net on Tuesday against his former mates in the second of back-to-backs remains to be seen. Freshman Jacob Markstrom is Theodore’s backup.
The 21-year-old Markstrom shares a hometown (Gavle, Sweden) with the Caps’ Backstrom. Markstrom has played just 40 minutes during his NHL career, but is considered Florida’s netminder of the future.
It won’t be much of a surprise if Theodore gets a return call between the pipes on Tuesday in the District. He is 3-1 with a shutout, a 2.47 GAA and a .920 save pct. this season.
“It’s a completely revamped team,” says Boudreau. “To me as a coach, it’s a divisional game. We want to beat our divisional foes.”
“It’s a good test game for us,” says Vokoun. “They’ve been playing well. They’ve won some games, and like we found out last game, there are no easy games in this league.”