The Washington Capitals take The Dale Hunter Show on the road for the first time this week, heading off to Florida to visit the Panthers before traveling to Ottawa on Wednesday. It marks the second time the teams have met so far this season, the first being Tomas Vokoun’s first shutout as a Cap, the winning goaltender in a 3-0 win. In that…
Cheerless, what do you have there?
“Somethin’ called the “Media Guide.’”
An interesting tome.
Never mind…what are you looking at?
“The new coach, Dale Hunter. I thought he was this goon who beat up on fish.”
Goon who beat up on fish?
"Yeah, he seems to be really mad at sturgeons. I read somewhere he cheapshotted one."
No, not ‘sturgeon’…’Turgeon.’ He was suspended once for a late hit on Pierre Turgeon in a playoff game.
"So, he likes fish?"
Can’t say, but what is it you found?
“He was a purdy good offensive player. He’s ranked up there in a lot of stuff for the Caps.”
Games played: 4th (872)
Goals: T-9th (181)
Assists: 3rd (375)
Points: 5th (556)
Penalty Minutes: 1st (2,003)
Power Play Goals: 4th (72)
Games Played, season: T-1st (84)
Assists, season: T-9th (59)
Penalty Minutes, season: 10th (238)
Games, playoffs: 1st (100)
Goals, playoffs: T-2nd (25)
Assists, playoffs: 1st (47)
Points, playoffs: 1st (72)
Penalty Minutes, playoffs: 1st (372)
Power Play Goals, playoffs: 2nd (11)
He has one of only seven playoff hat tricks in Capitals history, and he scored at least 20 goals in nine of his first 13 seasons in the NHL.”
You’ve done your research, Cheerless.
“Just one thing, cuz. This is a ‘media’ guide, right?”
Yes, it is.
“Does it come in a ‘large?’”
Large is how the Florida Panthers are living at the moment, occupying the top spot in the Southeast Division for the first time since Ponce de Leon first set foot on the peninsula in 1513. It is not as if the Panthers have done it with streaks of inspired play. They have one three-game winning streak so far this season. But by the same token, they have not had much in the way of losing streaks. Only once this season have they gone consecutive games without earning a standings point, losing a pair of shutouts in succession to the Caps and Buffalo in mid-October. Since putting together their only three-game winning streak of the season, the Panthers are 2-2-1. Here is how the two teams compare…
(click pic for larger image)
What Florida is going to enjoy in this one is getting back home. The Panthers are returning home after splitting four games on the road. On their last home stand they were 3-0-1. Meanwhile, the Caps have lost their last four road games, getting outscored in them by a 19-4 margin.
2. Who’s Not… Marco Sturm. Another former Cap, Sturm was traded to Florida as part of the deal that sent David Booth to Vancouver in October. Since arriving in Florida, Sturm is 2-1-3, minus-4 in 19 games, and that includes his getting a goal in the Panthers’ last game, the 5-3 win over San Jose. It is an improvement over his short stay in Vancouver, though, where he was 0-0-0, minus-5 in six games. In his last 60 games over the last two seasons Sturm is 7-12-19, minus-3. This after recording at least 20 goals in six of seven seasons. He seems still to have difficulty in his coming back from knee injuries.
3. Jason Garrison started the season with eight goals in 21 games from the blue line (half of them on the power play). Although he still leads all NHL defensemen in goals scored, he is now on a five-game streak without a point. He is still waiting on his first goal against the Caps. In eight career games he has but a single assist.
4. However Florida is doing it, they are not doing it by being an especially physical team, especially at home. They are 25th in hits at home, 27th in blocked shots. No team has fewer minor penalties overall, and even though the Panthers have 11 fighting majors, Matt Bradley – who has four of them – is reported out for this game.
5. Jose Theodore – yet another former Cap – was described by Head Coach Kevin Dineen as being “stinky” and “brutal.” Well, not lately. His 10-5-3 win-loss record is fine enough, but if he was to finish this season with his current 2.28 goals-against average, it would be his lowest since the 2003-2004 season. And his .924 save percentage would be his lowest since his Hart Trophy-winning year of 2001-2002. He has not allowed more than three goals in 15 consecutive appearances, and in his last four he is 2-1-1, 1.49, .942.
2. Think 5-on-5 matters? The Caps have fallen to 21st in that statistic, leaving them as the lowest ranked team in the top-eight of their conferences in that stat.
3. The Caps rank 25th in the league in the “ecstasy index” (power play conversion rate plus penalty killing conversion rate). That would be bad, but there are still three playoff-eligible teams with worse numbers (San Jose, Chicago, St. Louis).
4. No team has more wins in extra time so far this season than the Caps. Washington is 5-0 in overtime, and they are 1-1 in the Gimmick. The five wins they have in the hockey portion of overtime leads the league outright. Only one of the extra time games has come on the road, however (an overtime win at Pittsburgh).
5. Washington has been credited with 422 hits in 14 home games (third in the league in total, and average of 30.1/game), only 165 on the road (29th, 15.0/game).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Florida: Stephen Weiss
In 43 career games against the Caps, Stephen Weiss has 11 goals and 25 assists. Five goals and 14 assists have come on power plays. The Panthers are 3-for-12 in their last three games on the power play, Weiss getting one of them in the 5-2 win over San Jose on Saturday. The Caps are 10-for-10 in penalty killing over their last four games. Irresistable force, or immovable object?
Washington: Mike Knuble
Mike Knuble has been the good soldier toiling on the fourth line more often than not these days, but his production is not that of a player who has adapted to that role. He does not have a point in his last 14 games and does not have a goal in his last 16 contests (0-for-26 shooting). He is a minus-6 in his last eight games. If he is going to reverse that curse, this could be the team against which he does it. Knuble is 16-19-35, plus-15 in 53 career games against the Panthers, 6-8-14, plus-9 in 12 games with the Caps.
1. Hit ‘em again, hit ‘em again, harder, harder. If Florida is not going to be a particularly physical team, then be one against them. This is another in a series of games in which the Caps are trying to improve and perfect an aggressive approach in the offensive zone when the other team has or is in pursuit of the puck. The Caps seem to have played a little more passively on the road, but we’ll see how that goes under a new regime.
2. Don’t be short in the middle. Only three teams in the league have faced more shorthanded situations in the second period than Washington (41). Florida is ninth in the league in power plays received in the second period of games this season (37). If the Caps can get through that unscathed, they have a considerable advantage in the third period with only 16 shorthanded situations faced, lowest number in the league.
3. First things first. In 11 home games so far this season Florida has five wins. In four of them they scored a goal in the first period. In the six losses the Panthers were shut out in the first period four times.
In the end, we will get what might be the first measuring stick against which to assess the Caps’ progress under their new coach. It is one thing to make improvements at home when you have the crowd and the advantages of home ice in the rules to benefit a team. It is another when you go on the road for the first time implementing new schemes in hostile arenas and not having the benefit of getting the line matchups a team might like. Compounding things for the Caps is that ghastly record over the last four road games – 0-4-0 and outscored 19-4. That this test would come against Florida – Southeast Division-leading Florida – is a signal that this season is strange and is a caution that nothing, not even regular season success, can be taken for granted.
In a way, the season starts now with the Caps in a position to impose order once more in the Southeast and to start their climb back through the standings.
Caps 4 – Panthers 2