[AP Preview - WashingtonCaps.com Preview]
No doubt out of gratitude to the Panthers for all they did to help the Caps at the end of last season, Florida is the lone Eastern Conference team to be spared along the way thus far as D.C. has compiled a 26-7-4 intra-conference record. The Kitties are also the only Eastern Conference visitor to win a game in regulation at the Verizon Center since March 9, 2008.
Hopefully all of that generosity and good will ends before the opening faceoff tonight.
The good news for Caps fans is that if the season ended today, the Florida Panthers would make the playoffs, meaning
the Pittsburgh Penguins wouldn't there's a good chance that the Caps might take their guests seriously tonight and put forth a decent effort.
The bad news is that the Panthers are hot, winners of four of their last five games, and, what's more, they're 17-7-7 in their last 31 - why is no one talking about what head coach Peter DeBoer is doing down in South Beach? And why is (almost) no one talking about Nathan Horton's wife (who apparently is Jacques Plante's grand-niece and a heck of a virtual bartender... but we digress).
The Kitties are doing it with good defense and goaltending and timely (often beautiful) goal scoring - their leading scorer (Stephen Weiss) is 75th in the League in scoring, but when you've got two goalies in the top ten in save percentage, that doesn't matter so much.
Still, the Panthers are a team the Caps should beat, and as a potential first-round playoff opponent (as unlikely as that might seem), it's message-sending time for the home team, and that message is a clear and simple one: it's our Division - good luck with second place.
Elsewhere 'Round the Rinks:
Be sure to stop by Litter Box Cats for the view from the other side today.