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Posted at 12:03 PM ET, 01/ 8/2011

Capitals look to set a tone early against Panthers

By Katie Carrera

Washington's first meeting of the season against the Panthers came in the midst of its eight-game skid with Florida taking a rare two points away from Verizon Center in a 3-0 win on Dec. 9. That contest was the lone Florida win over the Capitals in the past seven contests between the Southeast Division foes and tonight Washington wants to make sure it doesn't boost the Panthers' confidence again.

The Panthers are coming off a 5-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes Friday night, during which Florida initially held a two-goal lead, and this tilt with the Capitals will mark their third game in four nights. So getting off to a strong start could mean even more in Washington's effort to shift the balance of the game in its favor.

"You want to make it uncomfortable for them right away. You want to make them go: 'Aw geez, here we go again,'" Brooks Laich said. "Last night they had the lead and they gave up five straight goals and had to travel from Florida to here, so it's not an easy schedule for them. We want to take them out of the game as early as possible and make them want to go home."

It's unclear which netminder might get the call for the Panthers against the Capitals. Tomas Vokoun made 36 saves to earn the shutout victory back on Dec. 9 in Washington, but has allowed at least three goals in five out of his past six starts -- most recently giving up four goals on 34 shots to Carolina.

But Vokoun has an 8-12-1 career record and 2.58 goals-against average against the Capitals, while back up Scott Clemmensen is 2-4-0 with a 4.00 GAA. Florida will be trying to avoid its first three-game losing streak since late November and while Washington will try to set a tone for the game early they will need to contend with the Panthers' recent stretch of hot starts -- they've outscored opponents 17-6 in the first period over the past 11 games.

Not only will this contest help the Capitals exact some measure of revenge for that shutout a month ago but it can help carry over to Tuesday's contest in Florida when they will face the Panthers again. These two contests combined with the first visit of the season to Tampa Bay on Wednesday are critical to the Capitals propelling themselves back to the top of the Southeast Division standings.

Heading into Saturday night's game, Washington (52 points) remains in second place in the division trailing Tampa Bay (53) by just one point but Atlanta (50) and Carolina (44) aren't too far behind. Florida sits in fifth with 38 points.

"We understand the importance of the game, believe me," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "It goes a long way to the divisional standings for us to be successful. I think they know exactly what's at stake as well."

Said Laich: "We want to get back on top. You see Atlanta loses last night, Tampa Bay the way they lost the other night -- maybe some other teams aren't playing their best hockey right now. So with three straight division games, you've got to take care of those and it starts with a win tonight."

By Katie Carrera  | January 8, 2011; 12:03 PM ET
Categories:  Florida Panthers  
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First maybe? Would be the first time in history for me...

Posted by: sca187 | January 8, 2011 1:06 PM | Report abuse

SHOCKER...Ovie misses an optional skate.

But hey, he's on fire...don't want him to cool off in the morning skate...

And we've had 3 games in 4 days...

Some captain we got... :(

Posted by: SoaringCaps | January 8, 2011 1:09 PM | Report abuse

@ Randino,

As opposed to having watched the game since before you could walk, I played defense and goalie. When I played goal, I was much more tired than after playing defense, much less wing (sometimes I pulled sit in the crease duty). So seeing a team captain who does not buy into the system and free-lances too much (floating, cherry-picking, etc...) would piss me off. OV is not a great captain and while he may be playing through an injury, teams have adapted systems and styles of play to stimmy him. His response, play the same way hoping for different results and play outside the system. Other players can see that, and they get pissed. OV is turning into the next Kovolochuk/Bure. He can learn to adapt ala Crosby/Gretsky or become a has been.

Posted by: JIMALLCAPS2 | January 8, 2011 1:10 PM | Report abuse

I'm looking forward to seeing OV on the RW. Hopefully it helps him go wide and use his speed.

I understand the frustration with Semin, but we don't know the whole story. He's killing me in fantasy and needs to get better if he's injured or wake TF up if he's not! Ha! We need to roll over Florida and take the 2 points. Important game...

Posted by: sca187 | January 8, 2011 1:10 PM | Report abuse

And FTR, we definitely need a 2C with locker-room presence. Someone who already has a full-grown pair of balls and playoff experience. This is a very young team still, and they need someone else to show them the way, on and off the ice.

Think back to how the team responded when Fedorov was acquired - the intangibles his leadership brought. Someone like that would help this team tremendously IMHO. WTF is the undertaker waiting for?

Posted by: sca187 | January 8, 2011 1:18 PM | Report abuse

For the millionth time, just because Ovie isn't skating does not mean he isn't at the rink preparing to get ready. He's probably in the trainer's room or the video room.

There are more than one way to prepare for a game, and many players find the morning skate to be hurtful and not helpful. That's why the skate is optional, it leaves it up to each individual player to decide if skating in the morning helps prepare them for the game.

Also, did you notice on the HBO special how few Penguins actually skated the morning skate, and none of them were Crosby, Malkin Letang, Orpik, etc. They were at the rink, just not skating.

Posted by: sgm3 | January 8, 2011 1:32 PM | Report abuse

So seeing a team captain who does not buy into the system and free-lances too much (floating, cherry-picking, etc...) would piss me off.

Posted by: JIMALLCAPS2 | January 8, 2011 1:10 PM

i believe that BB actually tells ovi to be ready to take off down the ice as soon as it looks like the caps control the puck. so i don't buy into the "team captain who does not buy into the system". the caps have changed their approach to defense - but floating and cherry picking could be BB's idea and not ovi's.

Posted by: Capt_Kirk_in_AZ | January 8, 2011 1:32 PM | Report abuse

The "team captain who doesn't buy into the system" comment is a joke.

Ovie leaving the zone when it looks like the Caps have possession of the puck is part of the system. It helped draw the penalty on Talbot in the WC and has created many opportunities in the past.

Ovie has been chipping the puck in much more often also. However, he isn't supposed to chip the puck in EVERY time. You don't want to not allow one of the most skilled players in the world to use his skill. It isn't smart and that's exactly what the other team wants Ovie to do.

So Ovie needs to chip the puck in on some occasions but on others he needs to use his skill to create opportunities, to draw penalties and to put pressure on the other team.

Posted by: sgm3 | January 8, 2011 1:39 PM | Report abuse

Everybody relax. He's going for an Ovechtrick tonight. Gotta rest up. Duh!!!!

Posted by: Dizruption | January 8, 2011 2:43 PM | Report abuse

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