They say that misery loves company, and while you know precisely how miserable the Caps have been on most nights this fall, you may not have noticed that they're only two points behind the Panthers (with two games in hand) in the Southeast standings. How's that for company?
The Kitties actually have a very good power play (welcome "Brian Rafalski-lite" Cory Murphy to the, um, rivalry) and a good penalty kill, but have been absolutely brutal five-on-five. Overall, the Cats are scoring just .12 goals per game more than the Caps and surrendering .28 goals per game more than the boys from D.C. Florida has lost four straight entering Thursday night's game (including a heart-breaker to Atlanta on Tuesday) and have the same 3-6-1 record over their last ten games as the Caps do over their last ten.
On the personnel front, old buddy Richard Zednik has a half-dozen goals in 15 games (which would be good enough for second-most on the Caps), Olli Jokinen is Olli Jokinen and Tomas Vokoun has yet to prove to be the South Beach Savior in between the pipes (7-9-0, 3.13, .913). But when it comes to the Panthers, it's always the Stumpels, Weisses and Sims that seem to kill the Caps, so be on the lookout for - I dunno - David Booth tonight. [Note: for a more in-depth and not-yet-totally-outdated refresher on the Cats, check out my preseason preview over at FanHouse]
For their part, the Caps should get a shot in the arm with the return of Chris Clark . Forget about his skill and potential on the first line for a second (hard to do, I know) - it's his leadership that has been most sorely missed and will be a welcome addition to the Caps lineup. And if you're playing "Guess Which Viktor Kozlov Shows Up Tonight" at home, flip a coin as the third-highest scorer in Panther history returns to Florida, a team against whom he has eight points in 13 career games but was held scoreless against in four games last year as an Islander.
On the road to the playoffs (or at least to respectability), you've gotta beat the teams you've gotta beat, and for both the Caps and the Panthers, tonight's opponent is one of those teams. The loser will find themselves in the Southeast cellar. The winner... well, they'll still have some pretty miserable company nearby.
Elsewhere 'Round the Rinks:
Rink Reader Jan asked me for an Eric Fehr update a week-and-a-half ago and, with my apologies for letting it slip through the cracks, Tarik provided one yesterday.... For a Pens fan's take on yesterday's Caps practice, check out frequent commentor Hooks Orpik's blog. Seriously.
- Hart: Vincent Lecavalier (3G, including the game-winner, 2A, +5, 5 SOG, 4 takeaways, 0 giveaways)
- Ross: Vincent Lecavalier (5 points)
- Norris: Paul Ranger (G, A, +3, 2 hits, 2 blocked shots)
- Vezina: Mathieu Garon (29-save shutout shootout win)
- Richard: Vincent Lecavalier (3G)
- Calder: Devin Setoguchi (G, game-clinching shootout goal, +1, 4 SOG, 2 blocked shots)
- Aiken: Cory Stillman (0 points, -4)