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March 7 vs. Florida Panthers at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: Comcast Sports Network
Radio: 106.7 The Fan and Caps Radio Network
Florida Panthers (7-11-5)
Washington Capitals (9-11-1)
The Caps close out a quick two-game homestand with a Thursday night game against the Florida Panthers. The Southeast Division match-up is the second of Florida’s two visits to the District this season and the third of four meetings between the Caps and Cats this season. Washington visits Florida to close out the season’s series on April 6.
Washington started the homestand in thrilling fashion, digging out of an 0-3 second-period hole to come all the way back and claim a 4-3 overtime victory over the Boston Bruins on Tuesday. Eric Fehr supplied the game-winner with a highlight reel tally in overtime, and he also added two assists for the second three-point game of his 283-game NHL career.
Fehr’s game-winning goal was his seventh as a member of the Capitals, and his first since a 3-1 win over the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Jan. 1, 2011 in the 2011 Winter Classic. Fehr scored two goals in that game.
Tuesday’s win over the B’s followed a 3-0 Washington win over the Jets in Winnipeg on Saturday, so the Caps will be gunning for their third win in a row on Thursday against Florida.
“I think it was great that we went into Winnipeg and played a solid game because we didn’t play well in Philly [last Wednesday],” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “We bounced back and had a better game. We found a way to win [Tuesday] night, did a lot of good things.”
After digging a deep standings hole with a 2-8-1 start this season, the Caps have won seven of their last 10 games. But they’re still mired in the cellar of both the Eastern Conference and Southeast Division standings, tied with Florida in both instances. The Panthers have played two more games than the Capitals.
Washington has been trending in the right direction in many key areas over those last 10 games. The Caps are within two games of the break-even mark in the standings for the first time since a Jan. 27 win over Buffalo left them with a 1-3-1 mark, and the team’s minus-3 goal differential is at its lowest point since Washington dropped a 6-3 decision to the Lightning in Tampa on Jan. 19, the opening night of the NHL season.
The Caps have outscored the opposition by a combined 24-14 in even-strength play over their last 10 games. In the first 11 games of the season, Washington averaged 2.27 goals per game and surrendered 3.73 goals against per contest. In the 10 games since, the Caps have averaged 3.4 goals per night while allowing an average of just 2.1.
Goaltender Braden Holtby has started each of Washington’s last 10 games, going 7-3 with three shutouts, a 2.20 GAA and a .932 save pct. during that span. The last Washington goaltender to make more than 10 consecutive starts was Olie Kolzig, who drew 16 straight starting assignments from Oct. 17 to Nov. 22, 2003. Kolzig was 4-11-1 during that stretch.
Two of Washington’s wins during its current 7-3 run have come at Florida’s expense. Holtby blanked the Panthers 5-0 on 27 shots at Verizon Center on Feb. 9 in the first game of that 10-game run, and he and the Caps earned a 6-5 overtime win over the Panthers in Florida three nights later. The Capitals rebounded from a two-goal deficit in the third period to win that one.
The Caps have won three straight at home, two in a row overall, and four of their last five. Three of Washington’s next four games are at Verizon Center, and then things get difficult for the Caps. Washington is about to enter into the most grueling phase of its schedule, a stretch in which it will play 17 games in 30 days starting on March 8. Eleven of those games are away from Verizon Center, and the Caps are just 3-6-1 on the road thus far this season.
“The schedule doesn’t let up,” says Oates, “so you’ve got to try to win every way you can and to keep playing well. We’ve got a tough schedule now, that’s why [Wednesday’s practice] was an optional. Guys need rest; guys are banged up. Every team is going through it and you’ve just got to stay the course.”
One team that can certainly relate to what Oates is saying is the Florida Panthers. On the heels of their first-ever Southeast Division title in 2011-12 and the team’s first playoff appearance in a decade, the Cats have followed with a tough start that has them sharing basement tenancy with the Capitals.
Few teams have been as battered by injuries as have the Panthers. In winning a 4-1 contest over the Jets on Tuesday, Florida did so without No. 1 netminder Jose Theodore, top four defensemen Dmitry Kulikov and Mike Weaver and top six forwards Stephen Weiss and Kris Versteeg. Defenseman Ed Jovanovski and forward Scottie Upshall were also out, and forward Sean Bergenheim has yet to play this season because of injury.
The Panthers announced on Tuesday that Weiss would be lost for the season.
Florida has recalled goaltender Jacob Markstrom from AHL San Antonio where he was 16-15-2 with a 2.65 GAA and a .920 save pct. The Cats believe the 23-year-old Markstrom – the team’s second-round (31st overall) pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft – is their goaltender of the future.
Markstrom made his NHL debut against the Caps in Washington on Oct. 18, 2011, making 29 saves but losing a 3-0 decision to ex-Panther Tomas Vokoun. Making his ninth career start on Tuesday, Markstom beat the Jets with a 30-save effort.
Panthers rookie Jonathan Huberdeau scored a penalty shot goal in that win against the Jets, his second penalty shot goal this season. He is the first NHL rookie to score a pair of penalty shot tallies since the Blue Jackets’ David Vyborny in 2000-01.
When it visits Verizon Center on Thursday, Florida will be trying to win consecutive games for just the second time this season and the first since Jan. 31-Feb. 3. The Panthers have won just three of their last 14 games (3-6-4) and are tied with Columbus for the fewest wins in the league this season.
Florida is 6-for-38 (15.8%) on the power play in those last 14 games, but four of those extra-man strikes came in one game, a 6-4 win over the Penguins on Feb. 26.
The Panthers have allowed at least one power-play goal in 15 of their 23 games this season. The Cats rank 29th in the NHL in penalty killing this season with a kill rate of 75 percent.