The Washington Capitals haven’t won since their previous meeting
with the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers last week.
Another victory would significantly tighten the division
The Capitals look to avoid matching their longest slide of the
season when they try to beat the Panthers on the road for the first
time in almost a year Friday night.
Washington (28-23-5) has won four straight Southeast titles, but
Florida (27-18-11) is trying to end that run.
The Capitals are second to the Panthers in the division race,
trailing by four points. They’re also ninth in the Eastern
Conference, three points behind Toronto for the final playoff
Washington hasn’t helped its cause to return to the playoffs,
losing three in a row since a 4-0 home win against Florida on Feb.
The Capitals dropped a season-high four straight Nov. 25-Dec. 1,
and their current slide continued with a 5-3 loss at home to San
Jose on Monday.
They’ll try to halt the skid as they open a four-game road trip
with the first three coming against division foes.
“This road trip is very important for us,” center Marcus
Johansson said. “We have to win more games than we are. It’s
getting tight now. We have to have a real good finish from here on
until the end of the regular season. Every game is going to be very
important, even more against a team that we’re really battling with
for first place.”
Washington has lost three in a row at BankAtlantic Center,
including two visits this season after falling 4-2 on Feb. 1.
Another strong performance from Alex Ovechkin, the team leader
with 23 goals and 44 points, might help change that. The star left
wing scored twice against the Panthers last week after missing the
last visit to Sunrise, Fla., while serving a three-game suspension
for a hit on Pittsburgh’s Zbynek Michalek.
Ovechkin has 13 goals and 11 assists in 20 road meetings with
the Panthers but no points in the last two.
Florida would like to keep it that way as it tries to rebound
from Wednesday’s 6-2 loss to visiting Ottawa, snapping a three-game
winning streak in the opener of four straight at home.
Tomas Fleischmann, a member of the Capitals from 2005-11, has
nine points in his last nine contests and five during a four-game
streak. Despite that surge, the left wing was held without a point
at Washington on Feb. 7 but registered two assists in the previous
meeting in Florida.
Linemate Kris Versteeg, the team leader with 22 goals and 48
points, has been kept off the scoresheet in his last three games
versus the Capitals. His next goal will set a career high, while
his 16 points on the power play tie his personal-best from 2008-09
Versteeg’s success is one reason the Panthers are atop the
division as they try to reach the postseason for the first time
since the 1999-2000 season.
“I’ve always expected to be a player that can play good minutes
and play in certain situations,” Versteeg said. “I’ve been given
the opportunity here, where in the past you haven’t been given it.
It’s been fun this year, you’ve been getting a lot of trust put
into you by the coach, so that helps.”