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Feb 9 vs. Florida Panthers at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 pm
TV: Comcast Sports Network
Radio: 106.7 The Fan and Caps Radio Network
Florida Panthers (4-5-1)
Washington Capitals (2-8-1)
The Caps make a quick stop at home for a Saturday night Southeast Division skirmish against the Florida Panthers at Verizon Center. It’s the first of four meetings between the two teams this season, and the front end of a pair of home-and-home games between the two teams.
Washington starts a three-game road trip against the Panthers in Florida on Tuesday night.
Washington is seeking to halt a three-game losing skid, its second of the young season. The Caps opened the campaign with three straight losses. That losing streak and the club’s current three-game skid are the bookends to a more respectable 2-2-1 stretch in the middle of the 11 games played to date.
The Caps come home on the heels of a humbling 5-2 loss to the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Thursday. Washington played a solid period of road hockey in the first frame of that contest, taking a 1-0 lead on Mike Ribeiro’s fourth goal of the season and allowing the Pens just five shots on net. But the Caps melted down in the second, as they’ve done all too frequently this season.
Pittsburgh scored five goals in the second period, three of them on the power play. Washington has been outscored by a combined 19-6 in the second period of its games this season.
“I just think we’re getting down on ourselves,” says Caps’ forward Matt Hendricks of the team’s second period struggles. “They get those quick two [goals] like that, and we just get down and we feel like we’re out of the game when we’re not. By the time we stop the bleeding or the leaking or whatever you want to call it, it’s too late.
“[Thursday] night it was evident, too. We came out in the third and played a solid third period. Ovi scored, he hit the crossbar on the power play, he had a breakaway chance; [Eric Fehr] hit the crossbar. It could have easily been a much different hockey game. But those five or 10 minutes where we forget what we’re doing out there are really affecting us.”
Washington has yet to win a game in which it scores the first goal (0-4), and its current five-game road losing streak (0-4-1) matches its longest since 2006-07. The Caps know they’ve dug themselves a deep hole at the outset of this shortened season, and they know they’ve got to start a winning spree in order to start climbing out of that hole.
“Winning cures everything,” says Caps right wing Troy Brouwer. “I think we have the ability in here and we’re trying to build the confidence in here to go on a winning streak. But it starts with one. I think over the past six or seven games, the effort has been there. We’ve been in every game. We’ve been trying to get points even though we’ve dropped a few here and there. But if you go on a couple game winning streak, you’re right back in the picture.”
The Caps have to start by not folding their tent at the first sign of adversity. They’ve not exhibited an ability to bounce back when the tides of the game start turning against them.
“It’s something that you have to fight through,” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “Over the course of the season, you have highs and lows and you become strong and you become weak. We talked about blowing leads a couple of weeks ago. You go through the cycle of everything.
“Everybody has times where you’re not as confident as you were a week ago, and you get it back in a week. All those little things matter, and there is stuff that you have to fight through. That’s what part of being a pro is. We’re playing good hockey, they get a goal. Okay. We can’t start leaking oil because they got a goal against us. That’s part of being a pro. You have to fight through that, and you have to learn from that. And as a group, we’ve got to get stronger from it.”
Michal Neuvirth started Thursday’s game against the Penguins, but he was pulled after Pittsburgh’s second goal midway through the second period. Braden Holtby came off the bench cold in a relief effort, and he stepped right into a shooting gallery. Held to just five shots in the first period, the Pens were suddenly getting glorious chances off the rush and from in tight.
Holtby saw 11 shots in his first 7:11 of action on Thursday. Three of those shots beat him, and two of the tallies came on the power play. Holtby also made a couple of strong saves that kept the bleeding at a minimum.
Looking for either of his goaltenders to deliver a stellar performance, Oates will turn to Holtby on Saturday against the Cats. Caps goalies haven’t had much margin for error this season; the Caps have yet to score more than three goals in any of their 11 games.
At the conclusion of Saturday’s game against the Panthers, the Capitals will have played a quarter of their 2012-13 schedule.
Saturday’s game against the Panthers is the first of three straight against Southeast Division opponents and the first game the Caps have played against a divisional foe since the first two games of the season.
After a convincing 5-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes in their season opener, the Panthers immediately fell into a five-game tailspin. Florida was outscored by 23-5 during the course of that five-game losing streak, losing each game by a multiple-goal margin.
Since that miserable stretch, the Panthers have rebounded nicely. Florida is 3-0-1 in its last four, and it comes to town on the heels of a 3-2 shootout victory over the Flyers in Philadelphia on Thursday night.
Panthers coach Kevin Dineen has split of last season’s top offensive trio of ex-Cap Tomas Fleischmann, Stephen Weiss and Kris Versteeg. Fleischmann and Weiss skated with off-season free agent acquisition Peter Mueller on Thursday against the Flyers while Versteeg – who has missed half of the team’s 10 games because of injuries – skated with rookies Jonathan Huberdeau and Drew Shore.
Huberdeau is Florida’s top pick (third overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. The 19-year-old Quebec native made his NHL debut this season, and he is third among Panthers in scoring. Huberdeau has three goals and six points in 10 games while averaging 15:16 per night in ice time.
Shore is a 22-year-old first-year pro who played three seasons of collegiate hockey at U. of Denver. He was the Panthers’ second-round choice (44th overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Shore has played in eight of Florida’s 10 games, posting two assists while averaging 13:53 per night.
Florida made a minor deal on Friday morning, swapping defenseman Keaton Ellerby to Los Angeles for a fifth-round draft choice. Ellerby had played in nine of Florida’s 10 games this season, and he was the team’s leader with 36 penalty minutes. The 24-year-old Ellerby was Florida’s first choice (10th overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. Ellerby played 125 games over four seasons with the Panthers, but was never able to establish himself firmly among the team’s top six blueliners.
Ex-Caps goalie Jose Theodore has authored all four Florida victories this season. He now has 286 career NHL wins and he has a shot at reaching the 300 plateau in 2012-13.