Capitals at Panthers Picks and NHL Betting Odds
by Alan Matthews - 4/6/2013
When Washington visits south Florida to face the Panthers on Saturday night, it will be two teams with vastly different outlooks on the rest of the regular season even though for a while the clubs looked very similar (i.e. bad).
Florida has the fewest points in the Eastern Conference and clearly is content with losing the rest of the way -- although of late the players haven't accommodated -- in an effort to improve its draft positioning. The team is wretched offensively and would have had two attractive pieces to trade before Wednesday's deadline in forwards Kris Versteeg and Stephen Weiss, but both are done for the season. The Panthers had been rumored as a potential trade partner for Vancouver in landing Roberto Luongo (who stayed put), but the Cats only made a minor deal, trading center Jerred Smithson to Edmonton for a fourth-round draft pick. He had two goals and three assists in 35 games for Florida.
The Caps, meanwhile, had been one of the NHL's biggest disappointments but have been trending upward and now think they will win the incredibly weak Southeast Division. So Washington was proactive before the deadline, acquiring forward Martin Erat from Nashville for top prospect Filip Forsberg, the 11th overall pick in the 2012 draft. Seems a high price to pay for the 31-year-old Erat, who had four goals and 17 assists with the Predators, but he is at least under contract for two more seasons at a respectable $4.5 million a year. In 10 NHL seasons, Erat’s career high in goals is 23 and points is 58.
Capitals at Panthers Betting Story Lines
Florida has had a rare three-day break since its last game, a 3-2 shootout win Tuesday in Tampa Bay (outside of the Heat and Rays, it's been a rough year for Sunshine State sports teams). It was Florida's season-high third straight win, all going to at least overtime and all against struggling teams (also the Devils and Sabres).
Jacob Markstrom stopped 39 of Tampa Bay's 41 shots on goal in regulation and overtime and then all three in the shootout. Markstrom has faced at least 40 shots in four of his 15 games this year, among the NHL leaders. The 23-year-old Swede has really played well since mid-March -- only one game allowing more than three goals -- and his emergence no doubt was a big reason the Panthers didn't truly push for a Luongo deal. Former Panthers No. 1 goalie Jose Theodore was hurt in early March and may be done for the season.
The Panthers have two other reasons to be optimistic about the future. The biggest is rookie forward Jonathan Huberdeau, a lock to be a Calder Trophy finalist. He leads all rookies in goals (13) and points (25). The 2011 No. 3 overall pick had a three-game points streak end in Tuesday's win. Huberdeau has two goals this season vs. Washington. Meanwhile, 25-year-old center Shawn Mattias has a career-high 14 goals this year after just 10 in 71 games last year. He had a whopping 11 goals in March, only the second player in Panthers history to score 11 or more goals in one calendar month. You have no doubt heard of the other one: Pavel Bure (15 in March 2001). Mattias' three-game goal streak ended Tuesday.
Washington beat the Islanders 2-1 in a shootout on Thursday to tie the Jets atop the Southeast -- and the Caps have two games in hand. Defenseman Mike Green extended his goal-scoring streak to four games when he scored the Capitals' only goal against the Islanders. It's the first time a defenseman has scored goals in four straight team games in one season since Green did it early in the 2010-11 season. Erat made his Washington debut and played nearly 15 minutes with no points or shots. The Caps were a season-worst six games under .500 (2-8-1) after a loss to Pittsburgh on Feb. 7, but Thursday's win got the team above break-even for the first time all year. It was Washington's sixth win in its past eight.
If the Capitals do make the playoffs, they should send a thank-you card to the Panthers. Washington is 3-0 this year against Florida, outscoring it 18-6. The Caps scored at least five goals in each game and had a season-high seven in the last meeting on March 7. In that one, the Caps scored four goals on eight shots in the first 8:10, the second-fastest the franchise has ever tallied four to start a game. Markstrom allowed two goals on two shots and was pulled after 3 minutes, 10 seconds. That's unheard of for someone who isn't injured. It's the only action Markstrom has seen this season against Washington. Workhorse goalie Braden Holtby has started all three games against the Panthers. Alex Ovechkin leads the Caps with three goals and six points this year against Florida.
Capitals at Panthers NHL Betting Odds and Key Trends
At BetOnline, the Caps have been opened at -120 and the Panthers +110 with the total at 5.5. Washington is 15-19-3 “over/under” (9-10-1 on road) and has won four of five as a favorite. Florida is 15-21-1 O/U (10-8-1 at home) and has lost three of its past four as a dog.
Washington is 10-1 in its past 11 games against Southeast Division foes. The Caps are 5-1 in their past six road games. Florida is 3-9 in its past 12 inside the division. The Panthers are 1-6 in their past seven Saturday games. The under is 7-1-1 in Washington's past nine games playing on one day of rest. The under is 6-1-1 in Florida's past eight games. The home team has won nine of the past 11 in this series.
Capitals at Panthers Picks and Betting Predictions
The Caps can taste the division crown now, especially with the Jets in tailspin. Ovechkin could be in line for a big game as he has scored 11 times in the past 12 overall and is now No. 4 in the NHL with 20 goals. I can't see Washington losing this game and sliding back to.500 unless Markstrom stands on his head. Take the Caps and the under. I'd also take Washington at -1.5 goals at +225. I see a 3-1 or 4-1 final.
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