The Washington Capitals take to the road for a weekend of sun, sand, and…
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…for a weekend of sun, sand, and hockey as they start a back-to-back series against the Florida teams starting with…
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…starting with the Florida Panthers, a team than hasn’t won a game in regulation time in…
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…in regulation time in almost a…
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Well, it’s about time!
The Caps have an opportunity tonight in their game against the Florida Panthers to finish the night somewhere they have not been in 67 days, since December 29th – first place in the Southeast Division. With the Tampa Bay Lightning losing to the Montreal Canadiens yesterday, opportunity has come a-knockin’.
And it has come in the form of a team that has not won a game in regulation time in almost a month. The Florida Panthers beat the San Jose Sharks, 3-2, on January 13th to reach the .500 mark at 24-24-7. Since then, however, the Panthers are 2-7-1, both wins coming via the Gimmick. Overall, the Panthers look like this…
With Florida having drifted out of the playoff conversation, they sold off as many assets as possible over the past couple of weeks. One might have called it a “fire sale,” although team president Michael Yormark wasn’t a fan of the term. In all, Florida has sent to other teams Dennis Wideman (Washington), Michael Frolik (Chicago), Chris Higgins (Vancouver), Cory Stillman (Carolina), Bryan McCabe (the Rangers), Radek Dvorak (Atlanta), and Bryan Allen. There are a total of 51 goals in that group, almost a third of the goals scored by the Panthers this season (159). More to the point, there are 4,503 games of NHL regular season game experience that departed with those seven players. Florida is playing for the future.
While Florida plays for the future, one problem they have had lately is finding the back of the net. Over this 2-7-1 stretch the Panthers scored only 15 goals, only eight goals in their last seven games. Not that the Panthers are an especially prolific offensive team anyway. Florida has one player with more than 40 points and only three others with more than 30 points (and one of them – Wideman – now plays for Washington). Stephen Weiss, the subject of much speculation at the trading deadline, is still in Florida and leads the Panthers in scoring (18-25-4). It is not an unusual spot for Weiss – he was the Panthers’ leading scorer in each of the previous two seasons. What he has not done, though, is score much (or at least enough) lately. As the dim hopes for a playoff spot became only dimmer over the last ten games, Weiss was 3-3-6, minus-5, and – inexplicably for the team leader in goals – did not record a shot on goal in three of those games (one of which came when he skated only 4:34 before being excused for elbowing Radek Martinek, earning a major penalty and a game misconduct in a 5-1 loss to the Islanders). Weiss seems sometimes as if he entered the NHL last week, but he is a veteran of 545 games and was 11-18-29 in 37 regular season games against Washington entering this season. He has six assists in three games against the Caps this year.
David Booth is quietly repairing his game after having missed 54 games last season as a result of two concussions. This season he has not missed a game, and in the 64 games played by the Panthers he has 17 goals and 15 assists. He, too, has not been able to ramp up his game in the last ten. He had a six-game streak without a goal broken when he recorded a goal against Atlanta in his last game, and he is 3-2-5, minus-4 in the last ten contests. Booth bears watching. He had a career-best five-point game against Washington in the last regular season game of the 2008-2009 season, a 7-4 win against the Caps. What’s more, nine of Booth’s 18 goals have given the Panthers a lead, and another four tied games when the Panthers were down a goal. Coming into this season he was 4-5-9 in 20 career games against the Capitals, and he has a goal and two assists in three games against the Caps this year.
Florida cleared out the cupboard of defenseman in trades. Dennis Wideman, Bryan McCabe, and Bryan Allen are gone. That leaves Jason Garrison as the Panthers’ minutes leader on the blue line, averaging 21:39 a game. This is Garrison’s first full season in the NHL, having played in one game in 2008-2009 and 39 games last season, all with the Panthers. He is not an especially productive offensive defenseman (3-10-13 in 56 games this season), but he is a minus-1, a respectable number given that the Panthers are, as a team, a minus-17 for the season. Garrison has one assist in five career games played against Washington.
Once upon a time, goaltender Tomas Vokoun was looked upon as perhaps a prize to be pursued at the trading deadline. Some (among those, yours truly) thought he might end up with, or at least be pursued by, the Capitals. But here we are in March, and Vokoun is still a Panther, the victim of a goalie market that dried up and a contract ($6.3 million annual salary/$5.7 million cap hit) that not a lot of teams would have or could have wanted to assume, even this late in the season. As usual, Vokoun has faced a lot of rubber this season – an average of 33 shots per 60 minutes played. It has left him with an unremarkable 2.62 goals against average (27th in the league), despite being tied for 12th in save percentage (.920). Perhaps the uncertainty of where he would be strapping on his pads was in his head lately. Over Florida’s last ten games he is 1-5-1, 3.24, .905. Vokoun entered this season with a 7-13-0 record against the Caps and a 2.71 goals against average. He won both of his decisions against the Caps earlier this season (1.47, .957), including a 36-save shutout on December 9th.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Florida: Mike Santorelli
Even on a team that does not get much attention, Mike Santorelli doesn’t seem to stand out. But this season – his first with Florida after playing parts of two seasons in Nashville – he is third on the Panthers in goals (17) and tied for second in points (33). Three of those goals came at the expense of the Capitals in the three games played between the teams so far this season, two of them on power plays. He has not been as productive lately, though, with no goals in his last six games. He does have 11 goals in the 26 wins in which he participated.
Washington: Dennis Wideman
Playing your former teammates for the first time only adds to the interesting week Dennis Wideman has had. After having been set free by the Panthers for prospect Jake Hauswirth and a draft pick, Wideman has played two games for the Caps, averaging more than 24 minutes of ice time and recording a plus-2 (no points yet). He has been logging major minutes in all situations, includind 3:34 in shorthanded ice time a game and 2:41 on the power play. It is a profile he seems likely to repeat tonight. In 13 games against Florida over his career, he is 1-8-9. That power play time could be important to a team who struggles in that aspect and for a player with eight power play goals this season.
1. Play Power Play. There are two numbers that when taken together work against the Caps in this one – 97 and 92. The former represents the number of times Florida has been shorthanded at home this season. Only two teams have been shorthanded on home ice fewer times. The latter is the number of power plays the Caps have had on the road – last in the NHL. How many times the Caps go a man (or two) up could be the thing to watch for in this game…can’t score a power play goal if you don’t get the chance.
2. Lock ‘em up. No team in the NHL has allowed fewer third period goals this season than has Washington (45). The Panthers are tied for 23rd in the league in third period goals scored. If Florida scores late, it can’t be good for a team that doesn’t allow the practice, especially for a team that plays as many close games as do the Caps (35 one-goal games). Lock up the third period, get two points.
3. 60 minutes, no more. Nine of Florida’s wins this season have come in extra time. They are 17-31 in games that do not go past 60 minutes. We would just as soon not get the free hockey.
In the end, this game is troublesome. The first of a back-to-back, coming as it does before the big match-up Monday night for first place in the Southeast against Tampa Bay. Some of the players being joined by their fathers for the trip. And hey, it’s Florida…sunny Florida. There is no shortage of potential distractions. Add to that the fact that the Panthers won two of three games in the season series so far, and this game could be trouble. If the Caps can't manage to earn themselves some power play time, this one could come down to the lunch-pail guys. Jason Chimera has five goals in ten games in his career against the Panthers (none in three games so far this season). Matt Bradley has three of his four goals on the season away from Verizon Center. If the stars will be getting the attention on Monday against the Lightning, the grinders can shine on Sunday.
Caps 4 – Panthers 2