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Capitals try to continue success against Panthers

by Mike G. Morreale
PANTHERS (23-21-9) at CAPITALS (35-12-6)

Last 10 -- Florida 6-2-2; Washington 9-1-0

Season series --
Washington will face Florida for the fifth time this season and for the third time at Verizon Center. The Caps have won each of the first four meetings, including a 5-4 shootout decision on Jan. 13, and have outscored Florida by a combined 21-11 in the process. The Capitals are 10-2-0 against Southeast Division foes in 2009-10.

Big Story --
The Caps have nine games over the next 14 days prior to the Olympic break, which begins Feb. 15. It's an opportunity for the club to build upon its Eastern Conference-leading 76-point total. Five Capitals, including Alexander Semin, Alex Ovechkin and Semyon Varlamov of Team Russia, Tomas Fleischmann of the Czech Republic and Nicklas Backstrom of Sweden, will head to Vancouver to represent their countries in mid-February while the remaining players rest up for the 20-game regular-season stretch run.

Team Scope:

Panthers -- David Booth is close to returning to the lineup, and that's good because leading scorer Nathan Horton will be sidelined until sometime after the Olympic break with a broken tibia. In a 2-1 victory over Montreal on Tuesday, center Shawn Matthias notched his first two-goal game since Jan. 19, 2008. Michael Repik, who was also recalled from the team's American Hockey League affiliate in Rochester on Tuesday morning, assisted on Matthias' second goal.

Capitals -- The Caps are 22-7 in their last 29 games while averaging 4.14 goals per game over that stretch. The team leads the League with an average of 3.83 goals per game for the season -- the best goals-per-game average in the NHL since 1995-96. On the flip side, the Caps have allowed 2.72 goals per game -- ranking 12th in the NHL in that category.

Who's Hot --
Look up and down the Capitals roster and you'll find a player with a hot hand. Semin has 11 goals and 21 points in 12 games, Ovechkin has 8 goals and 23 points and in his last 11 games, Backstrom has 6 goals and 12 points in 11, Mike Knuble has 9 goals and 11 points in 11 and Fleischmann has struck for 3 goals and 12 points in 12. … For Florida, goalie Tomas Vokoun is 7-4-2 in 13 straight starts, stopping 427 of 449 shots (.951 save percentage) over that stretch. He's also posted three of his six shutouts this season over the last nine games.

Injury Report --
For the Panthers, wings Booth (concussion) and Horton (leg) are out. … The Capitals are without Varlamov (lower body). Jose Theodore is also dealing with a lower-body injury, but will likely back up Michal Neuvirth against Florida.

Stat Pack --
Washington has scored at least one power play goal in seven straight games (10-for-26) -- its longest streak in over a year. The team went eight straight games with at least one power-play tally in November 2008.

Puck Drop --
A win against Florida will enable the Caps to match their franchise record for victories in a month. The club is currently 11-2 in January. The Capitals went 12-2-2 in December 1984, en route to compiling a franchise record for most points (26) in a month in the process. Washington has one more game this month against Tampa Bay on Sunday.

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