As the Florida Panthers continue to search for their first win of the season, it would be easy for the team to look back at their first four games and drive themselves crazy wondering what exactly went wrong and why they’re sitting at 0-2-2 heading into Friday’s matchup in Washington, D.C.
Each loss has come by just one goal, with two coming by way of the frustrating coinflip that is the shootout. But with only four games in the books and 78 still left to play, the Panthers aren’t letting themselves think about the past, but rather the two points on the line against the Capitals.
“You always want to look forward, you don’t want to look back,” Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad said after Thursday’s practice at MedStar Capitals Iceplex. “In the end, we’re only a couple games away from .500, and then we go from there. It’s a really important game for us. We don’t want to make that separation too big. We want to get back on the right track and the winning track as soon as possible.”
The Panthers are coming off a tough 6-5 loss in Philadelphia on Tuesday in which they clawed all the way back from a three-goal deficit in the third period to force overtime only to ultimately fall in the skills competition. The loss denied the team its first “W” of the season. To add to the frustration, it also marked the fourth time they led in shot attempts but were handed a loss.
“We’ve just got to make sure we’re doing the right things defensively,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. “Being on top of them in certain areas of the ice and getting out to a good start like we did against Philadelphia, that’s going to be important in trying to play a complete game.”
With the margin between winning and losing being so thin until this point, Boughner said his message to the players heading into tonight’s matchup against the defending Stanley Cup champions was fairly simple: play smart, play simple and avoid making costly mistakes.
“Both teams are going to make [mistakes],” Boughner said. “It’s usually the team that’s a little cleaner that wins the game. We’ve got to try and manage our team a little better, but a lot of good things are happening.”
Although their record doesn’t yet reflect it, Boughner is correct in his assumption that a lot is actually going right for the Panthers, especially at even strength. At 5-on-5 play this season, Florida’s 3.47 goals per 60 minutes places them second in the NHL. Additionally, the team’s 33.08 shots per 60 minutes ranks seventh, while its Corsi Rating of 53.61 percent ranks eighth.
Evgenii Dadonov, Vincent Trocheck and Keith Yandle are all currently producing at a point-per-game pace, while Aleksander Barkov has chipped in two goals and an assist while also winning 53.9 percent of his draws in the face-off circle. Fresh off a strong third period against the Flyers, Barkov said he believes his team “will get rewarded sooner than later” if they keep this play up.
“It shows the character we have in our room and talent overall,” Barkov said. “We played great for 50 minutes last game. Those 10 minutes, we’ve got to clean up. In those 10 minutes we can’t let them score five goals. That’s what’s costing us right now. We just need to clean up little things and we’re fine.”
Looking to deploy a more balanced attack against the Capitals — and to keep legs fresh for the second half of Florida’s back-to-back against Detroit on Saturday at BB&T Center — Boughner did showcase a few lineup adjustments during yesterday’s practice. After being a healthy scratch last game, Colton Sceviour was centering the second line, while Mike Hoffman was moved down to the left side of the fourth line – a drop that’s not meant to be viewed as a demotion.
“I’m just trying to even-out the lineup a little bit,” Boughner said of the changes. “We have back-to-back games, we play Detroit on Saturday and are getting home late. I want to roll four lines. It’s just about putting a little more balance in the lineup.”
The Capitals (3-2-1) are coming off a 4-3 overtime win against the visiting New York Rangers on Wednesday night. That said, the defending champs have still lost three of their last five contests and have yet to string together their first consecutive victories of the 2018-19 campaign.
Lethal with the man advantage, Washington has scored nine power-play goals in six games this season. With the extra attacker on the ice, Evgeny Kuznetsov has scored a league-high four goals, while Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson have both added a league-high six points.
“We’re for sure going to be ready against them,” Barkov said of the Capitals. “We all know they’re a really good team with really good players. They play hard, they play fast. We need to be ready, and we’re going to be ready. It’s going to be a tough game for both teams.”
GEICO GOALIE MATCHUP OF THE GAME (UNCONFIRMED)
James Reimer (0-2-1, 3.62 GAA, .885 SV%) vs. Braden Holtby (3-1-1, 3.18 GAA, .898 SV%)
After taking a seat on Tuesday night against Philadelphia, Reimer will return to the net to make his third start of the season on Friday in D.C. In his last start, the 30-year-old stopped 27 of 30 shots in a 3-2 loss to Vancouver on Oct. 13 at BB&T Center. While his overall numbers leave a little something to be desired, Reimer has been fantastic at 5-on-5 this season, owning a .921 save percentage over 108:13 of even-strength play. In 10 career games against the Capitals, he owns a 4-4-2 record with one shutout, a 2.16 goal-against average and a .937 save percentage.
Holtby made 29 saves to help lead Washington to victory on Wednesday night, so it’s likely he’ll take his place between the pipes again with the Panthers in town. The 29-year-old is 10-2-1 with one shutout, a 2.36 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage in his career against Florida. Thus far, one of the biggest issues for Holtby and his teammates has been keeping the crease clean, as the 19 rebound shots he’s faced at at 5-on-5 this season are the third-most in the league.
– Florida has scored 11 of its 12 goals at even strength.
– The Panthers have killed off all five penalties they’ve faced on the road this season.
– Vincent Trocheck has registered points in back-to-back games and is currently tied for Florida’s scoring lead with four points (one goal, three assists).
– Nick Bjugstad is three assists away from his 100th NHL assist.
– The Panthers are 50-54-10 with nine ties all-time versus the Capitals.
Tonight’s game against Capitals will be available on the FOX Sports Florida alternate channel for select television providers. Below please find the channel numbers on which Florida’s game can be found:
– Dish Channel #: 450
– Dish Channel HD #: 9573
– Dish Hopper Channel #: 412-38
– Direct TV HD #: 654-1
– AT&T Channel #: 721
– AT&T HD Channel #: 1721
PROJECTED LINEUP (NO MORNING SKATE)
Evgenii Dadonov – Aleksander Barkov – Nick Bjugstad
Jonathan Huberdeau – Colton Sceviour – Vincent Trocheck
Frank Vatrano – Jared McCann – Denis Malgin
Mike Hoffman – Juho Lammikko – Troy Brouwer
Keith Yandle – Aaron Ekblad
Mark Pysyk – Alexander Petrovic
Bogdan Kiselevich – MacKenzie Weegar
Scratches: Mike Matheson (Suspension), Maxim Mamin, Derek MacKenzie
– Oct. 13: D Jacob MacDonald was loaned to Springfield (AHL).
– Oct. 9: F Juho Lammikko was recalled from Springfield (AHL).
– Oct. 8: G Michael Hutchinson was recalled from Springfield (AHL).
HOW TO WATCH
When: Friday, Oct. 19, 7:00 p.m.
Where: Capital One Arena – Washington, D.C.
Florida Panthers Radio Network Presented by HARD Lifestyle Beverages: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast)
Where to stream it: Fox Sports Florida App
Watch Party: Thanks to the new “Territory on Tap” program, every road game now offers a chance for a watch party in South Florida! To see which local bars and restaurants will have drink specials and giveaways for tonight’s game, visit the official “Territory on Tap” page!
The Panthers will also be hosting a special “Happy Hour” from 4 p.m. until 8 p.m. on Himmarshee Street in downtown Fort Lauderdale to get fans pumped up for the game.