Washington Capitals at Florida Panthers game preview
SUNRISE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers have to wipe away the disappointment, and they have to do so quickly.
The Washington Capitals, who had the best record in the NHL last season and are off to a 2-0-1 start, will visit the Panthers (2-1-0) on Thursday night at the BB&T Center. And this is no time for Florida to be thinking about the past.
True, Tuesday night’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning was tough for Florida to swallow. The Panthers were so close to a third straight win before allowing Steven Stamkos’ game-tying goal on a sharp-angled shot with just 5.5 seconds left.
Then in the shootout backup goalie James Reimer, who was making his Panthers debut, stopped four of the first five shots he faced before getting beaten by rookie Brayden Point. It was the first shootout attempt of Point’s NHL career.
"You’d like to make those saves at the end," Reimer told the media after Tuesday’s game, "but sometimes it’s not possible."
Panthers starting goalie Roberto Luongo, who has allowed just two goals in his two games this year, is expected to return to the starting lineup on Thursday.
He will be opposed by Capitals goalie Braden Holtby, who won 48 games and the Vezina Trophy last season.
Luongo will have to contend with Capitals star left winger Alex Ovechkin, who scored 50 goals last season. It was the third straight year he reached that milestone, and he has done it seven times overall in his career.
The Capitals, who beat the Colorado Avalanche 3-0 on Tuesday, got off to a slow start on their power play this season, enduring a 0-for-8 drought. But they got two power-play goals on Tuesday, including one by Ovechkin, so that issue has seemingly been corrected heading into Thursday’s game.
Ovechkin, who had 19 power-play goals last season, is certainly feeling confident about his team’s play with the man advantage.
"We have so much skill with the five guys who play there, and we use it," Ovechkin told the media after Washington’s 2-of-5 power-play performance. "You can’t stop it."
Washington’s Barry Trotz, who won the Jack Adams Award last season for the NHL’s top coach, also had a quote that bordered on cockiness.
"I thought we could have scored every power play we got tonight," Trotz said. "We were sharp, and we got rewarded."
That Capitals brashness tends to disappear in the playoffs. Washington has never made it past the second round, including last season’s loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
But in the regular season, it’s hard to find much fault with the Capitals, who brought back almost their entire team from last year. This is a veteran team. Just about the only new addition is third-line center Lars Eller.
The Panthers, meanwhile, had a different offseason philosophy. Even though they won the Atlantic Division and set franchise records for victories (47) and points (103), the Panthers were aggressive in the offseason, changing their uniforms, promoting Tom Rowe to general manager and re-signing many of their core players.
Florida also brought in nine new players, and so far they have meshed well.
The Panthers don’t have anybody of Ovechkin’s caliber — very few teams do — but Finland native Aleksander Barkov, who also holds Russian citizenship, might be the player who emerges as Florida’s singular star.
Barkov, who signed a six-year, $35 million contract extension in January, is still only 21 years old. But the 6-foot-2, 210-pounder has improved in each of his three NHL seasons, from eight goals as a rookie, 16 in his second year and then 28 last season.
This season, Barkov has two goals and one assist in three games, and he is a plus-four.
Ovechkin, a native of Russia who has one goal and one assist this season, is 31 — a decade older than Barkov.
Besides the fact that the Panthers and Capitals are reigning division champs — and besides the fact that Luongo vs. Holtby is an excellent goalie matchup — there is also the subtext of Ovechkin, the proven superstar, against young gunslinger Barkov.