By all accounts this set of back-to-back games against familiar Southeast Division foes Florida (on Sunday) and Tampa Bay (on Monday) is important for the Capitals. They will be playing for a valuable four points that, if obtained, could allow them to regain the top spot in the division. Wins against the Panthers and Lightning would also give the Capitals their longest winning streak since a six-game stretch that concluded on Nov. 11.
While the final meeting of the regular season against the Lightning, which hold a one-point edge on first place in the Southeast prior to their game Saturday night against Montreal, may be the more attention-grabbing of the two games Coach Bruce Boudreau doesn’t want to even remotely overlook the Panthers.
“I’m not going to say anything about Tampa because it’s two points and our main concern is Florida right now,” Boudreau said. “The problem that ends up happening is people overlook that team. Even though they’ve lost the last couple games they’re out-playing and out-shooting everybody they’re just not having a lot of luck around the net. We’re going in there knowing we’re in for a tough tilt.”
In their first trip to Bank Atlantic Center this season, Washington suffered a 4-3 overtime loss on a goal by now-Capitals defenseman Dennis Wideman. The Panthers have lost seven of their last 10 contests, heading into a game against the Thrashers on Saturday, and traded away three of their most experienced defensemen -- Wideman, Bryan McCabe (Rangers) and Bryan Allen (Hurricanes) -- but Boudreau understands how a young team can be dangerous.
“Hopefully we’re ready,” Boudreau said. “Every time you get young guys in they play so much harder. It seems this is their playoffs, this is their opportunity to shine and they overachieve for the early part. So I’m going to assume that they’re going to be the hardest working team that we’ve faced in awhile.”
--Although Mike Green is on the trip with his teammates, Boudreau doesn’t expect him to play this weekend.
--Boudreau said he would like to get Braden Holtby in for a game during this recall stint with the Capitals while Semyon Varlamov misses seven to 10 days recovering from a knee injury, but that he’s not quite sure when that opportunity will come.
“We will [get Holtby a game] but I don’t know when,” Boudreau said. “It’s not like training camp or anthing when you say ‘Ok this guy is going to play four games from now.’ We’re going to go with what we perceive as the hot hand both in goal and out. We have some guys getting healthy right now and they’re going to want to get back in the lineup as well, but you’ve got to wait for your opportunity if you’re winning.”