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First-place Panthers set to host Capitals

by Brian Compton /
CAPITALS (13-11-1) at PANTHERS (14-8-4)


Last 10: Washington 3-7-0; Florida 6-3-1.

Season Series: This is the second of six meetings between the Southeast Division rivals. Washington earned a 3-0 victory against Florida on Oct. 18 at the Verizon Center. Caps goalie Tomas Vokoun stopped all 20 shots he faced for the shutout.

Big Story: Dale Hunter picked up his first win as Capitals coach Saturday night as Brooks Laich scored 12 seconds into overtime to lift Washington to a 3-2 victory against the Ottawa Senators at the Verizon Center. Hunter had lost a pair of 2-1 games after replacing Bruce Boudreau as Capitals coach last Monday after the club dropped six of eight contests.

"We had lots of scoring chances throughout the whole game," Hunter said after the victory. "They're forechecking hard, and it's forechecking with three guys on the forecheck plus the [defense], so it's a chemistry thing. It's a pulley system; one guy goes in, the other one goes in, then the other one has to come out and the other one goes in.

"They're getting it, and that's why we got some great opportunities tonight. We should have scored more, but good goalie on the other side and missing the net a few times. As long as you get your chances, that's what I worry about."

Team Scope:

Capitals: Saturday wasn't only a milestone for Hunter, but it was for Laich, too. The versatile forward appeared in his 500th NHL game and made sure it was a memorable one as he beat Craig Anderson just moments after overtime began. It was Laich's fifth goal of the season.

"Try and make baby steps every day," Laich said as his team adjusts to Hunter's system. "We were better in our second game from our first game and I thought we were better tonight. We get that first win out of the way now and now we get out on the road. We were not getting the results and now we've got out of a little funk with a win."

Panthers: What's transpiring in Florida is one of the feel-good stories in the NHL this season. Under first-year coach Kevin Dineen, the Panthers enter Monday's action atop the Southeast Division, five points ahead of the Capitals. The impressive run continued for Florida on Saturday night, when it pulled out a 5-3 victory at San Jose.

"I think there's really a lot of belief in our locker room right now," Dineen said after Saturday's win. "Two games now, we got down a goal in the first two minutes and we readjusted from there. It was a really solid all-around effort from our special teams to our goaltending. It was a good hockey game."

Who's Hot: Caps center Nicklas Backstrom has scored in two of the last three games. … Panthers forward Tomas Fleischmann tallied his 12th goal of the season Saturday night. He has 3 goals and 2 assists in his last five games.

Injury Report: For the Caps, Alexander Semin (upper body), Mike Green (groin) and Roman Hamrlik (lower body) are day-to-day. Jay Beagle (concussion-like symptoms) and Tom Poti (groin) are out. … Mikael Samuelsson (abdomen) is questionable for the Panthers, while Matt Bradley (upper body), Scottie Upshall (hip) and Marcel Goc (upper body) are out.

Stat Pack: Washington has killed 18 of their opponents' last 19 power plays, climbing from 25th in the NHL to 18th. … Panthers winger Jack Skille tallied his first game-winning goal in 116 NHL games Saturday night.

Puck Drop: "It feels good. It's something you want to get over with right away, hopefully the first game but it ends up being the third. It's one of those things you want to get under your belt and move on." -- Dale Hunter after earning his first win as an NHL head coach on Saturday

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