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Struggling Capitals host improving Panthers

by Corey Masisak

PANTHERS (4-5-1) at CAPITALS (2-8-1)

TV: FS-Florida, CSN-DC

Last 10: Florida 4-5-1; Washington 2-7-1

Season series: This is the first of four matchups between the two teams. Washington won four of the six games last season, including a pair of shutouts at Verizon Center. The Capitals outscored the Panthers 11-2 in the building, and 19-6 in the past five meetings there (all victories).

Big story: These two teams battled for the Southeast Division title last season, and now there are languishing at the bottom of the conference standings.

Team Scope:

Panthers: Florida also got off to a terrible start to the season, losing five of its first six games, but the Panthers have righted themselves by earning points in four straight (3-0-1). This is the last of a four-game road trip, which has included wins in Buffalo and Philadelphia sandwiched around an overtime loss in Winnipeg.

The Panthers were decimated by injuries at the start of the season, but key players like Stephen Weiss, Kris Versteeg and Erik Gudbranson are back in the lineup. The goaltending is still not great, but is has improved of late. The Panthers have yielded 11 goals in the past four contests after giving up 23 during the five-game skid.

Capitals: Washington has lost three straight after a win against Philadelphia, and the angst in the nation's capital is mounting with each defeat. The Capitals entered the weekend with the fewest goals per game (2.27) in the Eastern Conference and the most goals allowed per contest (3.73) in the League. That combination will put a team at the bottom of the standings, and the Capitals are three points shy of 29th-place Columbus.

Washington played a strong first period at Pittsburgh on Thursday, but the Capitals collapsed in the second en route to a 5-2. They yielded bad goals -- coach Adam Oates yanked Michal Neuvirth after his second soft goal in as many games -- and conceded others in bunches. Seven times this season the Capitals have allowed goals on two of three shots or less.

Who's hot: Tomas Fleischmann, who spent parts of seven seasons in the Capitals' lineup, has six points in his last four games and leads the Panthers will nine. … By his past standards this isn't a hot streak, but Alex Ovechkin has points in three straight games. Amazingly, Ovechkin has just one three-point game since April 6, 2011 -- a span of 113 games (including the postseason).

Injuries: Defensemen Ed Jovanovski (knee) and Michael Caruso (wrist) and forwards Sean Bergenheim (undisclosed) and Scottie Upshall (ankle) are all out for the Panthers. … Brooks Laich (groin) and Jack Hillen (upper body) are out for the Capitals. John Erskine returns from a three-game suspension.

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