Capitals, Panthers to wage early test of two of the top teams


Lauded as two of the better teams in the NHL, the Washington Capitals and host Florida Panthers figure to put on an epic struggle when the teams meet Thursday night.

The Capitals are led by star Alex Ovechkin, who was just was named the NHL’s “First Star of the Month” for October after he topped the league with nine goals in just eight games.

Ovechkin, who also has six assists, has scored in all three situations: one while the Capitals were shorthanded, two on the power play, and six while playing at even strength.

Still, Ovechkin and the rest of the Capitals will enter Thursday’s game with a snarl. That’s because they lost 3-2 at the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday – Washington’s first defeat in regulation time this season.

In addition, Ovechkin had his eight-game point streak snapped, and he remains two goals short of tying Brett Hull (741) for fourth place on the NHL’s career list.

“That’s our team – we set the bar high,” Capitals center Lars Eller said when asked why the team has an edge about it. “We hate losing. There are no excuses.”

The Panthers hate losing, too, and they also have little practice at it. After winning their first eight games to establish themselves as an early team to beat, the Panthers finally tasted defeat on Saturday, losing 3-2 in a shootout against the host Boston Bruins.

Florida has been off since then, which means that both the Panthers and Capitals will be well rested heading into Thursday.

Winger Jonathan Huberdeau leads the Panthers in points (11) and assists (eight).

Huberdeau, who on Saturday became just the third Panthers player ever to log 600 games for the franchise, has at least one point in six straight contests. During the streak, he has three goals and an assist in each game.

Anthony Duclair leads the Panthers with six goals – all at even strength – and captain Aleksander Barkov is second on the team in points (10) and goals (five).

“We don’t think about streaks or anything,” Barkov said. “We’re going to fix the little things and continue to play the right way.”

Meanwhile, Washington’s offense is much more than just Ovechkin.

Coming off a down season when he had just nine goals and 29 points in 41 games, Evgeny Kuznetsov leads the Capitals with eight assists and is second in points (13). He has five goals and five assists in his past seven games.

Center Nicklas Backstrom has yet to play this season due to a hip injury after led the Caps with 53 points last season. The team also is without center T.J. Oshie, who has a lower-body injury. He has six 20-goal seasons, including a current streak of three in a row.

For the Panthers, center Sam Bennett is questionable due to an upper-body injury. He has seven points in eight games.

Both teams are getting outstanding goaltending, especially the Panthers with Sergei Bobrovsky (1.81 goals-against average) and rookie Spencer Knight (1.95).

Washington’s goalies are Vitek Vanecek (2.40) and Ilya Samsonov (2.45).

–Field Level Media

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