As the Washington Capitals continue to succeed since one of their top players returned, the Florida Panthers struggled in their first game without one of theirs.
The surging Capitals vie to maintain their recent dominance in this series Saturday night in Florida.
Washington (7-2-0) scored 24 goals while winning five straight from Oct. 15-23, with Nicklas Backstrom returning from hip surgery to play in the final four. Though the offense has cooled off some since, the Capitals got just enough to support Braden Holtby’s 29 saves in Friday’s 2-1 victory over Columbus that followed a 3-1 loss Wednesday to Pittsburgh.
”You’re not going to score six, seven goals every game," said Backstrom, who set up T.J. Oshie’s game-winning goal in the third period and has four goals and four assists since coming back. "This is the way the game’s going to be in the future.”
Backstrom has 14 points in helping the Capitals go 11-0-2 in their last 13 meetings with Florida (5-4-1), while Alex Ovechkin has 12 goals and eight assists. The Panthers posted their last regulation win in the series on Feb. 1, 2012 at home.
Holtby is 7-0-1 in eight career games against Florida and has yielded two goals or less in each of his last six overall outings, though it’s unclear whether he or Philipp Grubauer will play Saturday in the second of a back-to-back.
Either will be taking on a banged-up Panthers team that may be without two members of its top line. Young center Aleksander Barkov is out 2 to 4 weeks after breaking a bone in his hand on Oct. 22 and Jaromir Jagr is uncertain to return from a lower-body injury that kept him out of Friday’s 3-1 home loss to Boston.
Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov is questionable as well after breaking his nose on an illegal boarding hit from the Bruins’ Brad Marchand late in the third period.
Jagr had scored in consecutive games prior to exiting Tuesday’s 4-1 win over Colorado that opened this three-game homestand. Though the Panthers had 32 shots in his absence on Friday, they finished 1 for 6 on the power play and allowed two goals on Boston’s three chances.
"We had the momentum and had our chances; we just needed to get them in the net," Panthers forward Vincent Trocheck told the NHL’s official website.
Florida has allowed seven goals when short handed over the last five games, though the Capitals’ usually potent power play is just 2 for 14 over its past five.
Roberto Luongo made 27 saves against Boston in his sixth start in seven games, opening the possibility of Al Montoya drawing the assignment Saturday. Montoya has won each of his two starts and been sharp in both, most recently recording 33 saves in a 6-2 decision at Dallas last Saturday.
Montoya is 0-2-1 in four appearances versus Washington but stopped 27 of 28 shots in his last start against them, a 2-1 shootout loss on Oct. 18, 2014.