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Panthers Look to Stay Strong on Defense in Visit to Washington

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

The Florida Panthers will look to continue their recent string of strong performances on the defensive side of the puck when they go head-to-head against the high-scoring Washington Capitals on Saturday night at Capital One Arena.

In the midst of a 5-2-0 stretch, the Panthers (22-22-8) have surrendered two-or-fewer goals in five of their last seven contests, including a 3-2 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night in Sunrise. Florida has also opened the scoring in each of its last six games.

Mike Matheson scored the game-winning goal for the Panthers against the Penguins, tipping in a nifty pass from Jonathan Huberdeau past goaltender Casey DeSmith with just 46 seconds left the extra frame. Afterwards, Matheson described the game as "a big confidence builder for us."

"That's his game," Panthers coach Bob Boughner said of Matheson's performance in the 3-on-3 overtime. "Great play by Huby [Huberdeau], who's always a clutch player for us in overtime. Mike does have that skating ability… He did a fantastic job and a great finish. I thought we had a bunch of great chances in overtime. It was nice to see it go in, for sure."

Finishing a perfect 3-for-3 against Pittsburgh, Florida's penalty also improved to 33-for-35 over the last 16 games, with its 94.3 percent success rate ranking second in the NHL over that span.

Washington owns the NHL's eighth-ranked offense and 12th-ranked power play.

"You've got to find ways to win games," Panthers forward Colton Sceviour said. "Those meetings like the one we had yesterday aren't fun, but you need them sometimes for a kick in the pants. I'm happy with the way we responded. Now we've just got to keep doing that. We shouldn't need those meetings to get going for games down the stretch here."

The Panthers made a few lineup changes prior to their matchup against the Capitals, with the most notable being veteran forward Derick Brassard, who was acquired in a multi-player trade with Pittsburgh last week, moving up to the top line to play alongside Aleksander Barkov.

In three games since joining Florida, the 31-year-old has registered two assists.

"I'm still twisting around a little bit on Brassard, what line he's better on and this and that," Boughner said. "I'm going to try him with Barky [in Washington]. I think that'll be a good setup for him. You can see the way he makes plays. He doesn't panic under pressure. He makes those veteran plays that you need."

The Capitals (30-18-6), meanwhile, have come back to life after suffering through an abysmal month of January. After losing seven straight games from Jan. 12-23, they have won three of their first four February contests and enter tonight riding a modest two-game winning streak.

"They've been struggling a little bit as of late," Boughner said. "I think we've just got to maintain our game and take the same game we had last night at home. With little a little bit of a road mentality, just play a simple game. You can't get fancy against those guys because they'll make you pay."

Washington is coming off a 4-3 overtime win against Colorado in which Evgeny Kuznetsov had a pair of goals, including the game-winner at 4:12 of the extra frame. Alexander Ovechkin leads the team with 60 points, while his 37 goals are four more than the next-highest total in the NHL.

The Panthers haven't seen the Capitals since a 6-5 shootout win in the District on Oct. 19.

"It's been a while," Boughner said of Saturday night's rematch. "I sort of throw that game away from earlier in the season because so many things have changed -- personnel and stuff like that. I've really concentrated on watching their last couple of games. Obviously things don't change there. They've got some scoring and got some offense."

NOTES

-- Aleksander Barkov leads the Panthers in scoring with 52 points, including four goals and nine assists over his last 14 games. In the midst of his fourth consecutive 50-point season, the 23-year-old picked up his 300th NHL point on Thursday against the Penguins. In addition to his offensive numbers, Florida's captain also ranks third in the NHL in takeaways (71), while his 22:55 of average ice time per game paces all forwards.

-- Mike Hoffman leads Florida in goals (24), power-play goals (10) and shots on goal (167). The 29-year-old winger needs just six more goals to surpass his single-season career-high for goals (29, 2015-16) and achieve the first 30-goal campaign of his NHL career.

-- Frank Vatrano leads the Panthers in goals (6), points (10) and shots on goal (37) over the last 12 games. The 24-year-old winger also leads the team with 16 even-strength goals this season, while pacing all forwards with 46 blocked shots.

-- Entering tonight with the second-ranked power play in the NHL (27 percent), the Panthers have registered at least one goal with the extra attacker in 32 of their last 43 games. Keith Yandle leads the team with 26 power-play points, which is also tied for fourth-most in the NHL.

-- The Panthers own a 4-1-0 record over their last five games against Washington.

GEICO GOALIE MATCHUP OF THE GAME

Roberto Luongo (11-12-1, 3.11 GAA, .897 SV%) vs. Braden Holtby (19-13-3, 3.01 GAA, .908 SV%)

In the first game of a back-to-back set, it's unclear who the Panthers will start in net as of this morning. That being said, I wouldn't be shocked to see Luongo get the nod after yet another outstanding start on Thursday night. Against the Penguins, the 39-year-old stopped 29 of 31 shots to pick up his third win in his last four starts. In that span, he has finished with a save percentage below .930 just once. In his career against the Capitals, he owns a 21-12-3 record with 2.38 goals-against average, a .924 save percentage and two shutouts.

Holtby has started five of the last six games and is expected to be between the pipes against the Panthers. The 29-year-old has won two of his last three starts, surrendering two-or-fewer goals twice in that span. In his career against Florida, he's gone 10-2-1 with a 2.61 goals-against average, a .912 save percentage and one shutout.

PROJECTED LINEUP

Forwards

Evgenii Dadonov - Aleksander Barkov - Derick Brassard

Jonathan Huberdeau - Vincent Trocheck - Frank Vatrano

Mike Hoffman - Riley Sheahan - Colton Sceviour

Troy Brouwer - Henrik Borgstrom - Denis Malgin

Defense

Keith Yandle - Aaron Ekblad

Mike Matheson - Mark Pysyk

Ian McCoshen - Josh Brown

Goalies

Roberto Luongo

James Reimer

Scratches: Micheal Haley, Bogdan Kiselevich, MacKenzie Weegar

Injured Reserve: Derek MacKenzie (shoulder), Jayce Hawryluk (lower body)

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

- Feb. 8: D Bogdan Kiselevich was recalled from Springfield (AHL)

- Feb. 1: F Jamie McGinn was loaned to Springfield (AHL)

HOW TO WATCH

When: Saturday, Feb. 7, 7:00 p.m.

Where: Capital One Arena - Washington, D.C.

TV: Fox Sports Florida (Alternate Channels Below)

Dish: 452 Dish HD: 9574

Dish Hopper: 412-40

DTV HD: 654-1

AT&T: 721

AT&T HD: 1721

Stream: HERE

Florida Panthers Radio Network: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast)

Watch Party: Thanks to the new "Territory on Tap" program, every road game now offers a chance for a watch party in South Florida! To see which local bars and restaurants will have drink specials and giveaways for today's game, visit the official "Territory on Tap" page!

There is also an official watch party tonight at Bokamper's Sports Bar & Grill in Miramar! 

Tweet from @FlaPanthers: Who's ready to watch the Cats take on the Caps tomorrow night? WE ARE 🙋���������🙋���������Join us at @Bokampers in Miramar �� https://t.co/w3MKocF7jT pic.twitter.com/6QE3zEDdS2

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