Following a come-from-behind, 4-3 overtime victory against the Boston Bruins, the Capitals are preparing for an opponent of a different sort Thursday night in the Florida Panthers.
Florida is the only team in the Eastern Conference with a worse record than the Capitals, which means whoever wins the tilt at Verizon Center will have the privilege of not occupying last place in the East. It’s two points Washington can’t afford to let slip away.
“I think we have to get up more for this one,” goalie Braden Holtby said. “Every game we win, the next one means more because we’re giving ourselves a better chance every time we get two points. Tonight means the same. Every game, it doesn’t matter who it’s against. We’re fighting against ourselves so we’re trying to prepare the exact same way and bring good effort.”
Despite winning seven of their last 10 heading into the matchup with Florida, the Capitals have remained lodged in the conference basement. It’s particularly difficult to make up ground in this shortened season because with only in-conference play, some team in front of them is gaining points on any given night.
It means that the Capitals have precious little room for error as they try to climb up the standings.
“It’s frustrating. I always look at it and I keep thinking to myself, ‘Did they forget to update those standings?’ because I feel like we should be getting closer and closer, but we just aren’t,” Karl Alzner said. “But you can’t let that get you down. Our record has been a lot better in the last 10 games or so and it’s got to continue to be like that.
“We always have to see our last ten games being around a 7-3 or 8-2 if we want any chance,” Alzner said. “We put ourselves so far behind that I guess we should expect to see ourselves down towards the bottom for a while, but there’s nothing else we can do right now besides play hard and win.”
Based on the morning skate, Tom Poti and Aaron Volpatti will be the healthy scratches tonight against the Panthers. Wojtek Wolski, who scored his first goal in a month against Boston, will be on the fourth line while Jeff Schultz will play alongside Steve Oleksy after sitting out as a healthy scratch against the Bruins.
Coach Adam Oates has made it clear that he wants Wolski to solidly within the system first and foremost rather than focusing on point totals.
“He has to play the game. If you play the game correct, he’s got the skillset, he’ll get some points,” Oates said. “For me, I need him to play solid, and if he does, gets rewarded with a goal tonight, great. That’s a bonus.”
Based on the morning skate here’s what the lineup should look like tonight against Florida:
Goal: Holtby, Grubauer.
On the injury front, Marcus Johansson (concussion) and Jack Hillen (upper-body) both took part in the workout. Mike Green did not skate and will miss a sixth game this season with a groin injury.
And Brooks Laich, who has yet to make his season debut because of a lingering groin problem, still hasn’t skated with the team since Feb. 16. The utility forward was on the ice in shorts and sneakers this morning, though, doing some stick work with General Manager George McPhee’s son, Graham.