AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
After suffering three straight losses coming off the bye-week, Washington looks to get
back on track against a Florida squad that has dropped three of their last four. The Caps
currently sit in first place in the Metropolitan (28-15-5, 61 points), while the Panthers are
ranked sixth in the Atlantic (19-21-6, 44 points). Puck drop is 7:30PM.
In the first two games after the bye week, the Caps were sluggish to say the least.
Passes weren’t connecting, zone entries were discombobulated, timing was off on special
teams, the list goes on. Things were looking better against Philadelphia on Sunday, but a hot goaltender in Brian Elliott forced the game into overtime, where the Flyers came out victorious.
Although it was a losing effort, there were still a lot of positives to take from this game.
Struggling players like Andre Burakovsky and TJ Oshie both had a few good looks, so the hope is that the offensive production from those two is on the upswing again. Alex Ovechkin scored from his special spot on the power play, and Braden Holtby was as stout as always in between the pipes. The Caps will be looking to keep trending in the right direction and pull out a victory against the Panthers.
The goaltending matchup for tonight’s game features Harri Sateri for the Panthers
matching up against Holtby for the Caps. Sateri is currently the #1 goalie in Florida due to
injuries to both James Reimer and Roberto Luongo. The 28 year-old Fin has put up a 4.82 SV% and a .861 GAA in 3 appearances this season. Those numbers aren’t going to scare anyone, so expect the Caps to look to put a lot of rubber on net. Washington certainly has the goaltending advantage tonight against the Cats.
Florida’s biggest offensive threats are Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck and
Jonathan Huberdeau. Barkov currently leads the league with 5 shorthanded goals, while
Trocheck is currently 11th in the league in shots on goal with 165. Huberdeau is also scoring at a point-per-game pace (46 points in 46 games), so Washington needs to be on the lookout for these dangerous Florida weapons.
Defensively, Florida’s group is headlined by two-time all-star Keith Yandle and 2014 1st
overall pick Aaron Ekblad. The group is rounded out with Michael Matheson, Alex Petrovic, Mark Pysyk and Mackenzie Weegar. While it’s a solid group of defensemen, it doesn’t raise a candle to the Capitals defense core that has three defensemen capable of top pairing minutes (Dmitry Orlov, John Carlson, Matt Niskanen). Rookies Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey have both been improving much better of lately, and Brooks Orpik has been quite efficient as of late. Advantage, Washington.
Up front is where the real focus will be for each team. The Capitals will be looking to
spark the offense out of some of their more dangerous weapons. Players like Burakovsky,
Oshie, Tom Wilson and Evgeny Kuznetsov would all like to see their offensive production
increase, while Lars Eller and Brett Connolly look to keep their hot streaks going. In a matchup against a goaltender who spent most of the year in the AHL, this is the game where the confidence for the struggling Caps can build up again.
For Florida, the offense will be looking to penetrate a solid defense and break one of the
league’s best goaltenders. This is not a team that gets a lot of secondary scoring, so expect
Matt Niskanen to get a lot of time going up against either Barkov’s or Trocheck’s line. Players like Evgeni Dadonov, Jamie McGinn and Radim Vrbata will be players that the Panthers will try to get on the scoresheet in order to relieve some pressure from the big guns. Even though there are many Washington forwards in cold spells, the Caps still have the advantage up front.
On paper, this is a matchup that the Capitals should win. Better offensive weapons,
deeper and more talented defensemen, and a massive mismatch between the pipes. But you can never count out a team that includes the dynamic weapons of Barkov, Huberdeau,
Trocheck, Ekblad and Yandle. Expect the Caps to come out energized, looking to get two points for the first time in what seems like a month.
By Bradley Krakowitz