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Caps Host Cats on Thanksgiving Eve

Caps start another busy stretch of hockey on Wednesday against Florida

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps / washingtoncaps.com

Nov. 27 vs. Florida Panthers at Capital One Arena

Time: 7:00 p.m.

TV: NBCSW

Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 106.7 FAN

 

Florida Panthers 12-7-5

Washington Capitals 16-4-5

For the first time in more than a month, the Caps are seeking to halt a short slide. Washington's three-game homestand continues on Wednesday when the Florida Panthers come to town for the only time this season, providing the opposition for the Capitals' traditional Thanksgiving Eve home game.

Washington took a 2-1 shootout loss in Saturday's homestand opener, falling to the Vancouver Canucks. Jakub Vrana staked the Caps to an early lead in the game's third minute, marking the eighth time in 25 games this season that the Caps have taken a 1-0 before the game is five minutes old. But Washington was unable to build on that lead, and Elias Pettersson's 5-on-3 power-play goal tied the game late in the first. The Caps and Canucks then played scoreless hockey for 51 minutes - including overtime - and Vancouver prevailed when Bo Horvat was the only player to score in a seven-round shootout.

Braden Holtby was brilliant for the Caps, but Vancouver's Jacob Markstrom was one stop better in the shootout, finally earning his first career win over Washington in his ninth career start against the Caps.

Saturday's loss leaves the Caps heading into Wednesday's game with a two-game slide (0-1-1), the first time they've gone into a game with consecutive losses in more than a month, since Oct. 12.

Currently missing four regular forwards, the Caps have been limited to just nine goals at 5-on-5 in their last seven games. Early in the season, goals were plentiful to the point of unsustainability, and the Caps now appear to be in the midst of a market correction.

"We're getting some opportunities, that's for sure," said Caps coach Todd Reirden, in the wake of Saturday's setback. "We've hit a number of posts, and did again tonight. Eventually if you continue to create quality chances, sometimes they're going to make saves or it's going to be post and out instead of post and in. And that's what it's been - post and out - for us, the last couple of games, and for the most part, even the first part of the year.

"So we'll continue to work at trying to get to the interior and create quality. Hopefully we can finish a few more of those. Obviously you go through trends during the year where we've scored at a really high rate, and then now it's a matter of time until some things kind of average out. We were scoring at a rate that was kind of unheard of for a while there, so this is probably a way of it balancing out and averaging out."

The Caps have had some interesting scheduling quirks here in the first third of the season, and they've been in the midst of a bit of an oasis in the last week or so. They finished a stretch of six games in 10 nights with a loss to the Rangers last Wednesday, then played just once - Saturday's loss to the Canucks - in the next six days. Wednesday's game against Florida starts off yet another grueling stretch of six games in 10 nights, but during that stretch in between, the Caps spent some time honing their skills, and they worked on getting to the harder, interior areas of the ice.

Video: Todd Reirden | November 26

"We worked at it a little bit today, making sure we're in the interior a little bit more," Reirden said after Monday's practice session. "I thought it was a day for us to re-establish some things that have been successful for us in the past. You'll see some more of those habits that allow us to have offensive success [Tuesday] as well."

Garnet Hathaway serves the final game of his NHL suspension on Wednesday; he'll be able to return to the lineup for Friday's homestand finale against Tampa Bay. Nicklas Backstrom is still out with an upper body injury, and although Carl Hagelin is no longer practicing in a non-contact sweater, he is ineligible to return to game action until Dec. 3 in San Jose, because they Caps had to move him to long-term injured reserve to accommodate some other necessary roster moves.

On the good news front, it does appear that Nic Dowd will be ready to return to the lineup on Wednesday against Florida, two weeks after he was lost to an upper body injury in a game against the Flyers in Philadelphia.

"We'll see how he is [Wednesday], but another positive day for him," says Reirden of Dowd. "A couple more battle drills today, and some penalty kill work, by design to get him ready for [Wednesday]."

The Caps and Panthers met nearly three weeks ago in Florida, with the Caps prevailing 5-4 in overtime on Tom Wilson's game-winner early in the extra session. The Panthers have gone 5-4-0 in nine games since that Nov. 7 meeting with Washington, and they've come back from four-goal deficits in two of those five wins, a 5-4 shootout win over the Bruins in Boston on Nov. 12 and a 5-4 overtime win over Anaheim on Nov. 21.

With those two comeback wins, the Panthers became just the second team in NHL history to author two comebacks from a deficit of four or more goals in the same season. Only the 1983-84 Edmonton Oilers - who went on to win the first of the franchise's five Stanley Cup titles at the end of that season - previously rebounded from a pair of four-goal deficits to win in the same campaign.

Over the summer Florida hired future Hall of Fame coach Joel Quenneville as its new head coach, and the early results have been good. The Panthers are in second place in the NHL's Atlantic Division, six points behind frontrunning Boston.

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