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Caps' pursuit of first place continues in Florida

by Corey Masisak
CAPITALS (35-20-10) at PANTHERS (26-31-7)

TV --CSN-DC (HD), FS-Florida (HD)

Last 10 -- Washington 6-4-0; Florida 3-7-0.

Season series -- The Panthers have won two of the three meetings between the two teams -- a 3-0 shutout during Washington's eight-game losing streak and a 4-3 overtime decision. Dennis Wideman scored the OT winner against his future team. The Capitals earned a 3-2 decision in the first half of that home-and-home between the clubs.

Big story -- It has been 74 days since the Capitals were in first place in the Southeast Division, but they could claim the top spot from Tampa Bay in the next two days with games against the Panthers and Lightning.

Team Scope:

Capitals -- Wideman will face his former mates for the first time, but another deadline addition has been key for Washington. Jason Arnott has assisted on a game-tying goal and scored a game-winner in his first two games with the Capitals. Arnott had two points in his previous 14 games with the New Jersey Devils.

Goaltender Semyon Varlamov is injured, but that has given Michal Neuvirth a chance to nudge ahead in their battle to be Washington's No. 1 goaltender. Neuvirth has yielded a total of five goals in his past three starts. Given the Capitals have back-to-back games in Florida, it is possible No. 3 goaltender Braden Holtby will start one of the games. The 21-year-old Holtby is 4-2-2 in eight appearances for the Capitals this season, and has yielded only one goal in each of his three most recent starts with the big club.

Panthers -- Florida has lost all three games since the trade deadline and scored a total of five goals in the past six games. The Panthers traded away defensemen Wideman, Bryan McCabe and Bryan Allen as well as forwards Cory Stillman, Radek Dvorak and Chris Higgins in a span of five days as first-year general manager Dale Tallon decided to overhaul the roster.

The Panthers made 13 picks in the 2010 Entry Draft and currently own seven picks in the first three rounds of the 2011 Entry Draft. Toss in a deal involving Michal Frolik earlier in February and the Panthers traded away six of their top 10 scorers this season.

Who's hot -- Washington captain Alex Ovechkin has 11 points in the past eight games. He has points in seven of the past eight games -- Ovechkin has not had a stretch of getting at least one point in eight of nine games all season. Marty Reasoner has two goals in his past four games and seven points in his past 11 games for Florida.

Injury report -- Varlamov (knee) is out for the Capitals. So too are defensemen Mike Green (head/ear) and Tom Poti (groin) and forward Eric Fehr (shoulder). Jack Skille, the player Florida acquired for Frolik, is out with an ankle injury. Forwards Rostislav Olesz (knee), Shawn Matthias (ankle), Evgeny Dadonov (finger) and Byron Bitz (sports hernia) are also out for the Panthers.

Stat pack -- There are 28 goaltenders that have faced at least 5,000 shots since the start of the 2005-06 season. Florida goaltender Tomas Vokoun leads all of them with a .922 save percentage in that span. He is also third in total saves during that span behind Miikka Kiprusoff Roberto Luongo (who set an NHL record for saves in one season in 2005-06 with the Panthers).

Puck drop -- The Capitals have some company on this two-game road trip to the Sunshine state. Washington is doing its annual "Fathers Trip" with games at Florida and Tampa Bay. In the past, the players and their dads have had a chance to do some golfing or deep sea fishing as part of the experience.
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