Photo: Elliot J. Stecher/Getty Images
The Washington Capitals take on the Florida Panthers for the first of three meetings between the two teams in a span of 26 days, on Thursday night. The two have not faced one another since November 2019, when the Capitals took both of their match-ups with the Panthers, including a 5-4 overtime win in Sunrise on November 7. Action from FLA Live Arena can be seen on NBC Sports Washington beginning at 7 PM ET.
The Capitals close out a two-game trip through the state of Florida on Thursday after they lost 3-2 to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday. Thursday will mark the first time this season where they will play a second consecutive road game. The Capitals won their first two road games of this season before falling at Amalie Arena on Monday night.
The loss to the defending back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions was the Capitals’ first defeat in regulation this season and the team enters Thursday night’s contest 5-1-3, third in the Metropolitan Division but second in points percentage (.722). With a victory on Thursday, the Capitals could start the year 6-1-3 for the second consecutive regular-season, which would be quite impressive with center Nicklas Backstrom (hip injury; week-to-week) and right-wing T.J. Oshie (lower-body injury; week-to-week) out of the lineup. Center Nic Dowd, who has missed three of the past four games with a lower-body injury, is expected to return on Thursday.
Captain Alex Ovechkin’s nine goals in nine games this season leads the NHL while his 15 points trail just Edmonton Oilers centers Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl (each has 17 in eight games). The 36-year-old saw his season-opening point-streak and four-game goal-scoring streak (five) come to an end in Tampa on Monday. Center Evgeny Kuznetsov’s 13 points are tied with Los Angeles Kings captain Anze Kopitar for fifth while his eight assists are tied for eighth. The 29-year-old has one goal and four points during a three-game point-streak and has gotten on the scoresheet in all but two games this season. Defenseman Nick Jensen’s +10 rating is tied with Panthers defensemen MacKenzie Weegar and Aaron Ekblad for the best in the NHL.
The Capitals’ average of 3.56 goals-per-game entered Wednesday fifth in the NHL while their 2.44 goals-against per game was tied for seventh. Their 20% power-play efficiency is tied for 16th with four teams, including the Panthers, but their 76.9% penalty-killing rate ranks 23rd. They have averaged 30.7 shots-per-game (18th) and 25.8 shots-against per game (best). The Capitals have also won 46.5% of their faceoffs this season (26th).
At five-on-five, the Capitals have earned a 52.54% Corsi-for percentage (ninth), 55.03% expected goals-for percentage (fifth), 53.14% scoring chances-for percentage (10th), 10.05% shooting percentage (third), .936 save percentage (ninth), and a 1.037 PDO (fourth).
After four days between games, the Panthers start a short two-game homestand on Thursday night that will end with a Saturday night showdown against the 8-0-0 Carolina Hurricanes. They have won all five of their home games this season, scoring at least four goals in all of them and allowing just one goal in three.
The four days off follows the Panthers’ first loss of the season, a 3-2 shootout loss to the Boston Bruins. Like the Hurricanes, the Panthers won each of their first eight games. Their 17 points entering Wednesday night lead the NHL. This follows a breakout year where the Panthers went 37-14-5, fourth in the league, and fell to the Lightning in a six-game first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series.
Left-wing Jonathan Huberdeau’s 11 points in nine games entered Wednesday tied for ninth in the NHL while his eight assists were tied for eighth. The 28-year-old has earned a point in every game but one this season and is currently riding a six-game point-streak (three goals, nine points). Center Aleksander Barkov’s 10 points (including five goals) are tied for 20th while his +9 rating is tied for the best among NHL forwards and fourth overall. The 26-year-old comes into Thursday on a four-game point-streak (three goals, five points) where he has earned three goals in his last two games. Left-wing Anthony Duclair leads the Panthers with six goals in nine games and has three goals and four points during a four-game point-streak.
Over the offseason, the Panthers added center Joe Thornton (one goal in six games this season) in free agency and right-wing Sam Reinhart (two goals, seven points in nine games) in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres. They lost right-wing Vinnie Hinostroza, center Alex Wennberg, defenseman Keith Yandle, defenseman Anton Stralman, left-wing Nikita Gusev, center Lucas Wallmark, and goaltender Chris Driedger.
The Panthers’ average of four goals-per-game is just ahead of the Capitals for fourth in the NHL while their average of 1.89 goals-against per game trails only the Hurricanes (1.50). Their 86.1% penalty-killing rate is tied with the New York Rangers for eighth. The Panthers have averaged 33.9 shots-per-game this season (tied with the Bruins for seventh) but their 31.4 shots-against per game is slightly higher than the league average. Their 45.4% faceoff-winning percentage is behind the Capitals at 29th.
At five-on-five, the Panthers’ 55.93% Corsi-for percentage trails only the Toronto Maple Leafs (56.15%) while their 51.68% expected goals-for percentage is just higher than the NHL average. The Panthers’ 54.12% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage is fifth. In addition to their 8.94% five-on-five shooting percentage (eighth), the Panthers’ .9476 five-on-five save percentage ranks fifth. Their PDO of 1.034 is right behind the Capitals at fifth.
Center Sam Bennett (upper-body injury), former Capitals defenseman Radko Gudas (undisclosed injury), and defenseman Markus Nutivaara (undisclosed injury) are day-to-day and will not play on Thursday.
Capitals: Vitek Vanecek (2-1-2, .906 save percentage, 2.40 goals-against average this season), 25, or Ilya Samsonov (3-0-1, .904 save percentage, 2.43 goals-against average, one shutout), 24. Whoever starts will face the Panthers for the first time in their career. Vanecek made 23 saves against the Lightning on Monday during his last start. Samsonov stopped 16 shots in the Capitals’ 2-0 win over the Arizona Coyotes on Friday in his latest appearance.
Panthers: Sergei Bobrovsky (6-0-0, .944 save percentage, 1.81 goals-against average), 33, will start on Thursday. In 27 career appearances against the Capitals, Bobrovsky is 9-12-5 with an .898 save percentage, a 3.02 goals-against average, and one shutout. He made 28 saves in the Panthers’ 3-2 shootout victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Friday in his last start.
By Harrison Brown