CAPITALS (28-23-5) at PANTHERS (27-18-11)
TV: CSN-MA, FS-F
Last 10: Washington 3-4-3; Florida 6-3-1
Season Series: These division rivals have split their first four head-to-head games this season, with both Washington and Florida holding serve on home ice. The Capitals have outscored the Cats by a 7-0 margin in two victories at Verizon Center, while Florida's offense has thrived with nine goals in a pair of home wins over Washington.
Big Story: The Panthers and Capitals collide for the third time this month as the Southeast Division race continues to heat up. Florida leads the division over Washington by four points through 56 games played for both teams, and looks to widen the gap in Friday's contest at BankAtlantic Center. Despite blanking the Panthers, 4-0, in their last meeting on Feb. 7, the Caps fell to 0-2-1 over their three ensuing games with a 5-3 home loss to the Sharks on Monday. The Panthers, meanwhile, had their three-game win streak snapped on home ice in a 6-2 defeat at the hands of the Senators on Wednesday.
Capitals: Washington has had three days of rest to soak in their third straight loss. Braden Holtby, who has since been reassigned to the team's AHL affiliate in Hershey, was recalled on an emergency basis to start in place of Tomas Vokoun (flu). Holtby allowed three power-play goals and five overall as the Caps were overwhelmed on home ice despite outshooting the Sharks, 42-35.
Now, Washington embarks on a stretch where it will play five of its next six games away from home -- a stretch that could impact the team's chances at a playoff berth and affect their stance at the trade deadline.
"They're important games, they're big games on the road for the club, great challenges for the club," general manager George McPhee told WashingtonCaps.com's Mike Vogel. "As a hockey player, this is what you look forward to, the big challenges. It may seem a bit daunting, but if we win a bunch of them, it would be great for this hockey club."
Panthers: Florida is sitting pretty atop the division standings entering its highly-anticipated home clash with Washington, but the loss Wednesday to Ottawa raised some concerns. The Panthers were doomed by a three-goal second period by the Senators, which marked the third time the Cats have surrendered at least three goals in a period over their last six games. Ottawa also outplayed Florida on special teams, scoring a shorthanded goal along with a power-play goal.
"[It] was not a very good showing by us," coach Kevin Dineen told NHL.com. "We had a decent first period, but in the second, bang-bang, a couple of goals against and the rain kept falling from there. A very disappointing game in front of our home fans."
Who's Hot: Alex Ovechkin was held without a point in Monday's loss to San Jose, but has accumulated 3 goals and 2 assists over his last four games. … Tomas Fleischmann has 1 goal and 4 assists during his current four-game point streak.
Injury Report: Mike Green (sports hernia), Nicklas Backstrom (concussion symptoms) and Tom Poti (groin) are out for the Capitals. Vokoun is questionable for Friday’s game against Florida. … Ed Jovanovski (hand), Jason Garrison (upper body) and Dmitry Kulikov (knee) are sidelined for the Panthers. Florida will also be without Scottie Upshall (abdominal surgery) and Marco Sturm (knee surgery).
Stat Pack: Florida suffered its ninth consecutive loss to Ottawa spanning the past three seasons. The streak is tied for the second-longest active winning streak in the League by one team over another. Boston's 10 consecutive wins over Edmonton is the only longer active streak. Florida has managed just one point over those nine losses to the Senators (0-8-1).
Puck Drop: Ovechkin reeled off 50-plus goals in four of his first five NHL seasons, but put forth only 32 last season and has tallied 23 through 53 games this season. Capitals associate goaltending coach and former netminder Olie Kolzig told the Washington Post that the star forward needs to get back to the no-nonsense type of hockey that he played earlier in his career.
"For Alex, it's a work ethic," Kolzig told the newspaper. "He just has to get back to being the way he was in his younger days and maybe not get wrapped up too much in the rock star status that comes with being Alex Ovechkin."