The Washington Capitals host the Florida Panthers in the first meeting between the two teams this season. The Panthers won two of three games last season. Puck drop is at 7 PM on NBC Sports Washington.
Florida finished last season with a 25-8-2 record to tie the Winnipeg Jets for the most wins over that span. Unfortunately for the Panthers, they finished only one point behind the New Jersey Devils for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Panthers were supposed to be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference going into the season, but have not lived up to expectations thus far. Four games into the season, Florida is one of two teams who have yet to win a game. The Detroit Red Wings (0-4-2) are the only other team who haven’t won a game so far this season. Florida is 0-2-2 through four games.
Florida wraps up a quick two-game road trip against Washington on Friday night. They opened it with a 6-5 shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday. The Panthers also begin a set of back-to-back games against the Capitals. Immediately following the game, the Cats will fly home, where they host Detroit on Saturday night.
Florida didn’t make a lot of changes over the offseason after just coming up just short of a postseason berth. However, they did acquire one of the best forwards on the trade block. The Panthers acquired Mike Hoffman from the San Jose Sharks, who added him from the Ottawa Senators prior, to bolster their depth up front. Hoffman has posted four consecutive seasons with 22+ goals and 48+ points, including a 22-goal, 56-point performance with the Senators last season. So far this season, Hoffman just has a goal and two points.
Defenseman Mike Matheson will serve the final game of a two-game suspension for interference and unsportsmanlike conduct for a hit on Vancouver Canucks forward Elias Petterson. Matheson, 24, posted 10 goals, 27 points, and a -1 rating in 81 games with the Panthers last season.
Forwards Evgenii Dadonov and Vincent Trocheck, and defenseman Keith Yandle share the team lead with four points. Center Aleksander Barkov, who has posted two goals and three points so far this season, led the team with 78 points and was third with 27 goals last season. Barkov, 23, was named the captain of the team last month.
With goaltender Roberto Luongo out due to injury, the Capitals will get James Reimer on Friday night. Reimer is 0-2-1 with a save percentage of .885 and a goals-against average of 3.62. Lifetime against Washington, Reimer is 4-4-2 with a save percentage of .937, a goals-against average of 2.16, and one shutout.
The Capitals conclude a three-game homestand against the Panthers on Friday night. They opened it with a 4-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night before the team defeated the New York Rangers by a 4-3 final in overtime on Wednesday night.
Washington comes into the game looking for more secondary scoring. Their top players have put up the numbers that it has to in order for the Capitals to be successful but their bottom-six forwards have not. The highest scorer in the Capitals’ bottom-six corps is Brett Connolly (four assists), who played the first four games of the season on the top-line with forwards Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin.
The Capitals enter Friday’s tilt with the Panthers with the second-best power play in the league. The team has an efficiency of 39.1% on the power play. Only the Maple Leafs (47.4%) are better on the power play. The Capitals have four players who have recorded at least five points on the man advantage (defenseman John Carlson and center Nicklas Backstrom: 6, Kuznetsov and Ovechkin: 5).
Goaltender Braden Holtby will likely start for Washington against Florida. Holtby, 29, is 3-1-1 with a save percentage of .898 and a goals-against average of 3.18 so far this season. In his career against Florida, Holtby has posted a 10-2-1 record with a save percentage of .920, a goals-against average of 2.36, and one shutout.
-Backstrom enters Friday’s game just two assists shy of 600 for his career
-Carlson’s 26:00 average ice time per game ranks fifth in the NHL
-The Capitals have earned a point in 17 of their last 22 games against the Panthers (15-5-2)
-Ovechkin has earned 76 points (36 goals) in 60 career games against the Panthers, marking the fourth-most points he has earned against an NHL franchise (Winnipeg: 91, Carolina: 85, Tampa Bay: 85).
A Look Back In Time
When the Capitals hosted the Panthers just after hosting the Winter Classic in 2015, Ovechkin opened the scoring on the power play just over a minute into the second period. Florida would respond with two goals in 1:25 to take a 2-1 lead. Forward Brooks Laich and defenseman Karl Alzner would score before the second period ended and forward Andre Burakovsky would add to that lead a little over five minutes into the third period. The Panthers would score again but did not have enough in the tank to pull off a comeback. Holtby made 29 saves, including a crazy one where the puck got stuck in his equipment, to guide the Caps to a 4-3 victory.
By Harrison Brown