The Florida Panthers will put their NHL-record-tying home winning streak on hold Friday night when they visit the Washington Capitals in a battle between two of the top three teams in the Eastern Conference standings.
Florida is 11-0-0 at home this season, tying the 1963-1964 Chicago Blackhawks for the best season-opening home win streak in NHL history. The Panthers have a solid shot to break that mark on Saturday when the expansion and last-place Seattle Kraken visit South Florida.
But that’s for another day. The current Panthers task is to beat the Capitals, who are 6-1-3 at home.
The Panthers, who are 3-2-3 on the road, have been led by goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who has a 1.90 goals-against average and a .940 save percentage.
“He’s been top three in the league this year,” Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad said of Bobrovsky, who has a 9-0-2 record. “He’s been unbelievable.”
Ekblad has been pretty good, too. He ranks tied for second on the Panthers in assists (11) and points (17).
His overtime goal that beat the Philadelphia Flyers 2-1 on Wednesday night was the sixth of his eight-year career. Since Ekblad joined the NHL for the 2014-2015 season, only three defensemen have more overtime goals: Brent Burns (nine), Seth Jones (eight) and Victor Hedman (seven).
Ekblad, who has two goals and seven points in his past five games, has been playing at an elite level, according to Panthers interim coach Andrew Brunette.
“He was all around it,” Brunette said of Ekblad’s activity level against the Flyers. “It was nice to see him rewarded at the end.”
Ekblad also had a goal on Nov. 4, which is the only time the Capitals and the Panthers have played so far this season. The Panthers won that game, 5-4, on Eetu Luostarinen’s overtime goal.
Capitals star Alex Ovechkin had one goal and two assists in that game amid another banner year.
Ovechkin, seemingly ageless at 36, is on pace for one of his greatest seasons. He has 15 goals in 20 games, scoring 11 times at even strength, three on the power play and one short-handed.
He also has 18 assists, which is as many as he had all of last season in 45 games and one short of his 2019-20 total in 68 games.
He is atop the Capitals point list with 33, and his 272 power-play goals are three short of breaking Dave Andreychuk’s career NHL record.
“He’s rolling,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “He’s unleashing.”
Injuries are a significant factor in Friday’s game. The Panthers are missing their best player, center Aleksander Barkov, but they are 3-0-0 since he got hurt.
Washington is without three top-nine forwards in Nicklas Backstrom, Lars Eller and Anthony Mantha, and top-four defenseman Justin Schultz left Wednesday’s 6-3 win over the visiting Montreal Canadiens due to an upper-body injury.
The Capitals, who since finally winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history in 2018 have made three straight first-round playoff exits, are one of the oldest teams in the league.
But they are still effective, most notably with center Evgeny Kuznetsov, defenseman John Carlson and intimidating winger Tom Wilson. They rank 2-3-4 on the Capitals in points with 24, 18 and 17, respectively.
Washington’s biggest hope for the future is the continued development of 24-year-old goalie Ilya Samsonov, who is 7-0-1 with a 2.22 GAA and a .920 save percentage. Washington’s first-round pick in 2015, this is his third year in the NHL, and he is on pace for his career-best season.