Caps Looking Up At Panthers in SEPosted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel
For the first time in the 2011-12 season, the Washington Capitals woke up on Friday morning looking up at another team in the Southeast Division standings. By virtue of their 5-2 win over the Jets in Winnipeg on Thursday day, the Florida Panthers leapfrogged over the Capitals into the top perch in the Southeast. The Panthers have played two more games than the Capitals, but Florida currently holds a one-point advantage over Washington. Washington will make up those two games in hand this weekend, both against the New Jersey Devils. The Caps open up a home-and-home set with the Devils at Prudential Center in Newark tonight and Verizon Center on Saturday. The Panthers return home to host the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday. The Capitals hope to have defenseman Mike Green back in their lineup tonight. The Caps are 7-0 when Green is in the lineup this season and 2-4 when he is not. He has not played in nearly three weeks, since suffering a lower body injury in an Oct. 22 game against Detroit. According to Caps coach Bruce Boudreau, Green’s possible presence in the lineup tonight will be a “game time decision.” Regardless of who is in the lineup for Washington tonight, the Caps know they need to tighten things up in their own end of the ice. For the first time in a span of 99 regular season games, the Capitals have allowed as many as five goals in consecutive contests. “I think with our troubles in our own zone,” begins Caps defenseman Dennis Wideman, “the goals we’ve given up are on lost battles or lost races to loose pucks. We’ve got to come up with those pucks a little more and find a play instead of rimming it around or throwing it away.” New Jersey coach Pete DeBoer announced this morning that star Devils winger Ilya Kovalchuk would miss both games against Washington this weekend with a lower body injury of his own. “It’s short term pain for long term gain,” says DeBoer of keeping Kovalchuk out of this weekend’s action. “We don’t want to turn this into something that lingers.” “It’s a hole to fill,” notes DeBoer. “You fill it by committee. We’ve got to get two or three guys picking up that slack. We turn more into a four-line team than a three-line team. The guys have done a good job and they’ve responded to that adversity. We’ve won a couple in a row here, so it’s good.” New Jersey has won three straight games, but DeBoer believes his troops also need to be better in their own end than they were in Tuesday’s 3-2 win over the Hurricanes. “One of the best teams in the league,” says DeBoer of the Capitals. “Obviously very deep, very experienced. When you watch them, they score goals in bunches. We’ve got to play a lot tighter game defensively than we did [on Tuesday] against Carolina in order to have some success here tonight.” Asked specifically about Caps center Nicklas Backstrom, tied for fourth in the NHL’s scoring race this season, the Devils’ coach had some high praise. “Being in Florida the last three years,” says DeBoer, “this guy has impressed the hell out of me for three years. He is really – I believe – the straw that stirs the drink there for that team on a lot of nights. He’s just an outstanding player. He’s always given my teams problems with his great play. He’s a great player.” Backstrom put up six goals and 16 assists for 22 points in 18 games against DeBoer’s Florida teams over the last three seasons. Backstrom had at least one point in 14 of those 18 games. Tomas Vokoun starts in net for Washington tonight and he’ll be opposed by Martin Brodeur for New Jersey. The 39-year-old Brodeur will yield the net to the 38-year-old Johan Hedberg for Saturday’s game back in Washington. Since the Devils won the last of their three Stanley Cup championships in 2003, Brodeur is just 16-26 with a 2.57 GAA and a .911 save pct. in his last six postseason runs. He is 36-16-4 lifetime against Washington with six shutouts Last season, Brodeur was 0-3 in his three starts against the Capitals, posting a 4.88 GAA and a .783 save pct. in the process.
Saturday night marks the last home game for the Caps for a while, just as Friday night marked the last home game for the Devils for a while. Washington sets out on a three-game trip this week that takes it to Nashville, Winnipeg and Toronto. For New Jersey, tonight’s game starts a stretch of five