Photo Source: Nick Wass/AP

Game Preview #5: Panthers Visit An Old Friend.

FLORIDA PANTHERS (3-1-0) 6 PTS AT WASHINGTON CAPITALS (4-0-0) 8 PTS

OPPOSITION SITE:   CAPITALS OUTSIDER

TSN GAMEDAY

If the Florida Panthers really want to find out what kind of team they have this young season, they’ll find out more tonight in Washington against the Capitals, than they did in last night’s win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. After a night of feeling good about themselves after their power play onslaught in the 7-4 win over their in-state rival, can they put the game behind them, refocus and give another high-energy effort against one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference? The Capitals are off to a hot start, thanks in large part to former Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun. After being slighted on opening night by coach Bruce Boudreau, Vokie has responded by winning the last three games (despite a very shaky start against the Lightning) while posting a .922 save percentage and a 2.57 goals against average.

In the off-season, GM Dale Tallon had made a few offer to keep the steady Czech netminder in Sunrise for a few more years but didn’t like what he was offered and sought another team. Once Jose Theodore was signed early in the July 1 free agency period, Vokoun‘s days as a Panther were officially over.

While there are some fans in Pantherland that didn’t think much of Vokoun, I thought he gave some pretty terrible Panthers teams a chance to win every night while facing a barrage of shots and not getting much goal support in return. Goal support is not something he has to worry about much anymore, as he has one of the best offensive teams in front of him on a nightly basis. So far into this season, it hasn’t been the big guns of Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin and Nicklas Backstrom who’ve been giving him that support, rather it’s been Jason Chimera, Marcus Johansson, and Dennis Wideman (another former Cat) who have been doing the heavy lifting. That’s bad news for the Southeast division and the rest of the league because it’s just a matter of time before the big guys get on their game.

Last season, the Panthers went 3-2-1 against the Caps, a huge improvement from their 0-5-1 record against them the season before. But what to expect is anyone’s guess as Vokoun has noted, this a much different team this season than it was last year.

The biggest question for the Cats heading into tonight’s game is who is going to be in net? While there is not official confirmation, Miami Herald’s George Richard and Sun Sentinel’s Harvey Fialkov, Jacob Markstrom will get his first NHL start tonight in our nation’s capital. The big Swede made one appearance in relief last season against New Jersey. During the preseason, Markstrom made two starts. He allowed five goals to the Bolts on 9/23 before coming back and playing 30 minutes of shutout hockey against the Dallas Stars four days later. It’s a rough team to make your first start again, but apparently Kevin Dineen has faith in his goalie-of-the-future. Theodore had started all four games to this point, but with a busy week against good teams, now seems like a good time to get him some rest.

It would also be a big help if the 2nd line of David Booth, Scottie Upshall and Tomas Kopecky can get going in 5-on-5 situations. If this team is going to have sustained success, this line needs to produce. It’s only four games in, but the line has gotten off to a slow start, having not produced an even strength goal. And it seems to be the only line that is having some of the ‘chemistry’ issues many thought the whole roster was going to have. For the team’s sake, hopefully this is something that resolves itself with more repetition because it could really use the goals that Booth and Upshall are capable of. You can’t expect five power play goals every night to carry the team.

Nerdy stats for us:

* The Capitals are going for their first ever 5-0-0 start in their history.

* The Capitals are 16-6-1 against the Panthers in their last 23 meetings, with a 5-1-0 record at the Verizon Center in the last 6.

* This will be the 99th meeting between the two clubs with Washington holding a 48-34-9-7 edge.

* In 38 career games against Florida, Alexander Ovechkin has 46 points (20g-26a).

* The Panthers lead the NHL with 7 power play goals and are second in success with a 32% rate.

* In 42 games against Washington Stephen Weiss has 36 points (11g-25a).

* Ed Jovanovski’s goal on Saturday was his 30th as a Florida Panther.  His last goal against Carolina was 4,670 days ago.

Connections:

* Tomas Vokoun played in 248 games for the Panthers with a 101-108-30 record and a 2.57 GAA and a .923 SV%.

* Dennis Wideman appeared in 61 games for Florida with 9g-24a for 33 points.  His +/- was -26!

* Matt Bradley spent 6 years in D.C. appearing in 427 games, accumulating 96 points (37g-59a)

* Flash appeared in 283 games over a 6 year span. (60g-78a) 138 points.

* Jose Theodore played two seasons for the Caps with a 62-24-12 record.

Puck drop is at 7 pm! Can the Panthers make it three-in-a-row?

DON’T FORGET TO COME OUT TO OUR FIRST EVER RAT TRICK ROAD WATCH PARTY. DETAILS ATTACHED.

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Tags: Alexander Ovechkin Alexander Semin Bruce Boudreau Dennis Wideman Florida Panthers Jason Chimera Marcus Johansson Nicklas Backstrom Tampa Bay Lightning Washington Caitals

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