By Bill Sands
The Washington Capitals are in Sunrise, Florida Thursday night for the last game before the All-Star weekend to take on the Florida Panthers. The Caps have been off since Sunday afternoon, while the Panthers are coming off an ugly 6-1 loss to Dallas on Tuesday night. Having the benefit of extra rest hasn’t been an advantage for the Caps recently, who need to turn things around before embarking on another week of inactivity.
Washington: It’s been a strange January for Washington, who has had multiple extended periods of rest. The Caps have already had four days of rest or more on four occasions, and will have another one after Thursday’s game.
Despite the extra rest in recent weeks, the Caps have not been playing well since coming off the bye week, with three straight losses (albeit two in overtime). The reasons for poor play are not immediately clear, as the Caps had a great start to January, but the team seems to have lost its rhythm.
Getting back on track starts with a complete team effort for 60 minutes. Washington has yet to look like the same dominant team that we’re used to seeing, and Thursday’s game is a great opportunity to capitalize against a weak Panthers team.
Florida: It has not been a good year for the Panthers, who have yet to find their groove after firing head coach Gerard Gallant. Gallant led the team to the playoffs in 2016, but was terminated halfway through the 2016-17 season, and Florida has yet to play playoff-caliber hockey since then.
The team features an impressive core with Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Aaron Ekblad, and Vincent Trocheck, but wins have still been hard to come by. Florida sits third-from-last in the Eastern Conference with a record of 19-21-6.
The Panthers had a strong showing, however, in their only trip to D.C. back in October. Florida notched a decisive 4-1 win over the Caps and certainly hopes to do the same in their last game before the All-Star break.
The sparse January schedule continues, as the Caps won’t play again until next Wednesday in Philadelphia. Getting a win against a beatable Florida is crucial for the team, who definitely don’t want to spend another week stewing about a bad loss.