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."