Panthers-Capitals Preview

BY foxsports • February 1, 2016

Coach Barry Trotz offered high praise to the Florida Panthers after some of their players helped knock off his squad in this weekend's All-Star showcase.

Trotz and the Washington Capitals will try to turn the tables - minus Alex Ovechkin - by earning their 11th consecutive home victory over the Panthers on Tuesday night in a matchup of the Eastern Conference's top teams.

The Atlantic Division's All-Star team, led by Florida coach Gerard Gallant, edged Trotz's Metropolitan Division squad 4-3 in the opener of the 3-on-3 tournament Sunday in Nashville. The Atlantic lost 1-0 to the Pacific Division in the championship.

Two Panthers players at opposite ends of the age spectrum, Aaron Ekblad and Jaromir Jagr, scored in the opener. Florida's Roberto Luongo stopped all 12 shots he faced in the title game.

"They're a great young team. People in Florida should be excited about their hockey team," Trotz said.

The Capitals (35-8-4) will have to face the Panthers without Ovechkin because he skipped the All-Star festivities to heal from a lower-body injury, earning him an automatic one-game suspension.

Ovechkin is tied for second in the league with 28 goals.

"We have to make the right decision," Trotz said. ''You don't win a Stanley Cup. You don't get two points for (the All-Star) Game. You get prize money. For us, it's not about the prize money. We have a bigger goal, and if we want to get to where we want to get to, we can't do it without Alex Ovechkin being 100 percent."

Aside from Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Braden Holtby participating in All-Star weekend, Washington has played just one game since Jan. 19 due to Winter Storm Jonas. A 4-3 overtime loss to Philadelphia on Wednesday ended a 12-game home win streak and kept the Capitals from matching a franchise record.

Their 10-game win streak over Florida at the Verizon Center is their longest active one versus any opponent. It is also the Panthers' longest current skid in any building.

Florida (29-15-5) is 11 points behind Washington for the East lead and the league's best record, but enters the second half with a five-point cushion over Detroit and Tampa Bay in the Atlantic.

"It's nice right now to be at the place where I envisioned we would be," Luongo said. "There's still a lot of work left to be done. That goes without saying, and we're not satisfied with anything that we've done so far because really we haven't done anything.

"The growth of our team has been great over the last year and a half. It's exciting to think about the future and realize we have a chance to do something special."

The Panthers outscored opponents 14-3 while winning their final three games before the break, but those were all at home. They were outscored 12-3 in losing their last three road games after winning six in a row, part of a franchise-record 12-game win streak overall.

Both meetings with the Capitals this season have been in Florida, with the Panthers falling 2-1 in overtime Oct. 31 and winning 4-1 on Dec. 10. Jagr, who turns 44 later this month, scored in the victory as did Ekblad, who returned from an upper-body injury Jan. 22.

Florida has won the last 15 games Ekblad has played as he's posted a plus-11 rating.

"He's a bright, bright star and one of those guys that maybe doesn't get noticed enough right now," Trotz said of Ekblad, who turns 20 on Sunday.

The Capitals got their top-scoring defenseman, John Carlson, back in their final game before the break following a month-long absence due to a lower-body injury.

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