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Feb 7, 2024 4:32 pm

Caps lug 5-game skid into Florida, first of tough stretch

Capitals, florida Panthers

The Washington Capitals, who have lost a season-worst five straight games, are about to play four of the top five teams in the NHL — all in a row.

It starts on Thursday night, when the Capitals visit the Panthers in Sunrise, Fla. After that, Washington will visit the Boston Bruins and then play host to the Vancouver Canucks and Colorado Avalanche.

“This is not a great time to lose five in a row,” said Capitals forward Dylan Strome, who leads the team in goals (19) and points (33). “We have to string some wins together.”

After Washington won its only Stanley Cup title in franchise history in 2018, not much has gone right. For starters, the Capitals haven’t won a playoff series since. Last year they hit rock bottom, missing the postseason for the first time since 2007.

This season, there have been a lot of issues, including Alex Ovechkin finally showing his age. Ovechkin, the second-greatest goal scorer in NHL history with 832 — trailing only Wayne Gretzky — has lit the lamp just 10 times. He had 42 goals last season at age 37.

Another Capitals issue concerns Evgeny Kuznetsov, who on Monday entered the NHL Player Assistance program. Kuznetsov, who had 78 points in 79 games two years ago, is out indefinitely.

Capitals goalie Darcy Kuemper, who went 37-12-4 just two seasons ago with Colorado, is also in a slump. He is 11-11-2 with a 3.19 goals-against average.

Charlie Lindgren, a 30-year-old, undrafted career backup/minor leaguer who has competed in just 82 NHL games in eight years, has outplayed Kuemper. Lindgren is 9-7-4 with a 2.71 GAA.

But while the Capitals are in next-to-last place in the Metropolitan Division, things are quite different in Florida.

The Panthers, despite a 2-1 home loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday, are in second place in the Atlantic Division.

Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, fresh off his All-Star appearance this past weekend, was rested on Tuesday and is expected to be ready against Washington. Bobrovsky (23-10-2 with a 2.51 GAA) leads the Eastern Conference in wins.

Panthers center Sam Reinhart ranks second in the NHL with a career-high 37 goals and leads Florida with 62 points. Forwards Aleksander Barkov (37) and Matthew Tkachuk (35) are 1-2 on the Panthers in assists.

However, Barkov — Florida’s captain and a two-time All-Star — hasn’t scored a goal since Dec. 18, a span of 17 straight games. He hit the right post against the Flyers, only adding to his frustration.

The good news for the Panthers is that they are healthier than they have been all season. Forward Nick Cousins returned on Tuesday after having been out since Jan. 2 due to being in the concussion protocol.

Panthers coach Paul Maurice wasn’t happy with how his team played against the Flyers, who snapped Florida’s four-game winning streak.

Perhaps it was just some rust coming out of the All-Star break.

“I didn’t like the way we supported the puck,” Maurice said. “We looked like we hadn’t been on the ice in a week.”

–Field Level Media

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