Caps Look To Close in on Cats
Sunday, 12.04.2011 / 3:42 PM
Mike Vogel - WashingtonCaps.com Senior WriterDecember 5 vs. Florida Panthers at BankAtlantic Center
1500AM, XM and Caps Radio Network
Pre-Cap Podcast at 2 p.m., Two-Man Advantage at 2 p.m., John Walton’s one-on-one audio with Dale Hunter at 5 p.m., all on washingtoncaps.com.
Washington Capitals (13-11-1)
Florida Panthers (14-8-4)
Fourteen years to the day after the Caps hosted the Florida Panthers in Washington’s first-ever game at its then-new downtown D.C. home, the two teams meet in a Monday night match-up on the Florida ice sheet.
Monday’s game between the Caps and Panthers is the second between the two teams this season, and it pits the top two teams in the NHL’s Southeast Division.
The Caps took the Panthers down 3-0 in the first meeting, an Oct. 18 contest at Verizon Center. The fortunes of the two teams have gone in opposite directions since. Washington is 8-11-1 since that game while the Panthers have gone 11-6-4 over the same stretch to open up a five-point lead over the Capitals in the Southeast Division standings.
Monday’s game is a four-point divisional contest that gives the Capitals, now lodged in eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings, a chance to climb closer to the Cats in the Southeast.
“We have a challenging road trip here even though it’s just two games,” says Caps right wing Mike Knuble
. “Playing in Florida next is going to be … They’re playing pretty well and I think they want to say that there’s a new top team in our division.
“We’ve got to keep climbing the ladder here. I think that’s the big thing now. If you looked at the stats before [Saturday’s] game, we’re out of the playoffs. That’s not normal for us, so we’ve got to climb that ladder again.”
Washington halted a four-game losing streak – its longest skein of consecutive losses in regulation in more than four years – with Saturday’s 3-2 overtime win over the Ottawa Senators.
The Caps’ forecheck was consistent and steady on Saturday, but all three Washington goals were scored off the rush.
“If we can get the puck in,” begins Knuble, “and get it deep and then forecheck it, that’s how we’re going to be able to generate. We did score off rushes today, and that’s the way you get through some days.”
Monday’s game is the start of a two-game road tour for Washington; it will take on the Senators in Ottawa on Wednesday. The Caps are seeking to stop a four-game road losing streak that stretches back to the middle of last month. Washington has won 20 or more road contests in each of the last four seasons, but is 4-7 on the road in 2011-12.
The Caps have scored exactly one goal in each of those four consecutive road losses and have been outscored by a combined 19-4 in the process. The team’s current road losing streak is its longest in more than three years. Washington last lost four straight away from the District from Nov. 20-29, 2008 when it lost four straight to Western foes at Los Angeles, San Jose, Minnesota and Columbus by a combined 19-7.
Washington is 21st in the NHL with a 15% power play success rate. He Capitals are 19th in the league in penalty killing with a kill rate of 81.8%.
In their last dozen games, the Capitals’ special teams have passed each other going in the opposite direction. The Caps have tallied just twice in 45 tries (4.4%) on the power play in their last 12 games, while the penalty kill has been successful in 35 of 41 missions (85.4%) during the same stretch.
Under first-year coach Kevin Dineen, the Panthers find themselves sitting atop the Southeast Division in December, the first time they’ve occupied the catbird’s seat this late in the campaign since 1999-00.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the Panthers’ play thus far this season has been its strong performance on the road. Florida is 9-6 in its 15 road games to date, and is tied with Philadelphia for the most road victories this season.
Florida has had as many as 20 road wins just once in the franchise’s 17 seasons of existence. That was in 2007-08 when the Cats went 20-20-1 away from South Florida.
The Panthers rank in the top half of the league in both goals and goals against. Florida is 14th in the circuit with an average of 2.77 goals per game and ranks eighth in goals against at 2.38 per game.
The team’s top forward trio of ex-Cap Tomas Fleischmann, Stephen Weiss and Kris Versteeg is pacing the Panthers’ attack. Each of those three players ranks in the league’s top 15 in scoring. Edmonton and Chicago are the only other teams in the league with as many as three players in the league’s top 15 in that category.
Fleischmann and Weiss are both plus-14 on the season while Versteeg is at plus-13. All three rank among the league’s top 10 in that department.
Flesichmann established single-game career bests in ice time (22:12) and shots on goal (nine) in Florida’s most recent game, a 5-3 win over the Sharks in San Jose on Saturday. Fleischmann had a goal and two assists in that game for his sixth multiple-point game of the season.
Florida is also getting offensive contributions from its backline. Brian Campbell stands third among all NHL defensemen in scoring and Dmitry Kulikov is tied for 15th among blueliners.
Campbell is tied for fourth in the league in assists with a handful of other players including Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom
. A dozen of Campbell’s helpers this season have come on the power play; he leads all NHL skaters in that category. Backstrom is tied for second with 11.
Jason Garrison leads all NHL rearguards with eight goals on the season. He entered the 2011-12 season with seven goals in 113 career NHL contests and has more than doubled that total in just 26 games thus far this season.
After spending last season as an understudy for the Minnesota Wild, ex-Caps netminder Jose Theodore has his career firmly on track again in South Florida. The 35-year-old netminder is 10-5-3 on the season with a shutout, a 2.28 GAA and a .924 save pct.
In his last six games, Theodore is 4-1-1 with a 1.83 GAA and a .935 save pct. Theodore’s next game will be his 600th in the NHL.
Florida’s power play was the worst in the league last season, but it has climbed to 10th in the NHL in 2011-12. The Panthers have clicked on 18.7% of their extra-man chances this season. Florida’s penalty killing outfit ranks 18th in the NHL with a kill rate of 82.2%.