Saturday, February 7, 2009

Capitals shouldn't take Panthers lightly.

On Thursday night, Washington Capitals followers saw what can happen when you don't fully prepare for an opponent.

Multiple defensive breakdowns, a handful of breakaways and a 5-4 loss to the .500 Western Conference L.A. Kings.

And while tonight's opponent - the Florida Panthers - are a full 12 points behind the Capitals in the Southeast Division, it would behoove the Caps not to look past them as an easy victory.

In their last ten games, the Panthers are temped 6-2-2 and now sit alone in 8th position in the East.

The last time these southern felines made the playoffs? Get out the archives and look up the 1999-00 season when they lost in the first round to the New Jersey Devils (who wound up winning the Cup).

But this year, the Panthers seem poised to erase the demons of seasons past and have all the right tools to win the division still.

Sound familiar? Well it should. Last year at this point, the Capitals were 26-24-5 before going on their unconscionable streak that saw them win the division in their final regulation game. This year, the Panthers are well ahead of that mark with a 25-18-8 record and plenty of games against their division left to go.

To this point, Florida is 8-3-2 against teams in the Southeast and have only played the Caps in one of their six meetings this season (which they won 5-3).

Their youth movement is leading the charge offensively with Stephen Weiss, Jay Bouwmeester, Nathan Horton, David Booth and Michael Frolik leading the charge for the Cats.

As a plus, their young legs could prove quite the advantage once the grind of the final weeks of the season set in.

Washington's task tonight will be to silence the critics who say they aren't nearly successful enough against the NHL's second tier teams, and take the Panthers to task on home ice.

These divisional games could prove to be the difference come April, and if the Capitals don't wish to go the way of the Carolina Hurricanes of last year, it's best they take care of business starting tonight.

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