SUNRISE, FL - DECEMBER 5: Goaltender Scott Clemmensen #30 of the Florida Panthers stops a shot by Mike Knuble #22 of the Washington Capitals on December 5, 2011 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
The Caps and Panthers meet for the third time this season and first of three meetings this month Wednesday in an important Southeast Division game for both teams.
The Southeast Division has been the Washington Capitals for the better part of three years; four consecutive division championships speak to that. Yet, this season has proven otherwise as the Caps have struggled to maintain any sort of lead. Wednesday, they can begin to build one as they face the second-place Florida Panthers in what could be a pivotal divisional game.
Washington earned a point in its 4-3 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning Tuesday, giving them a one-point edge over Florida. A win Wednesday would give Washington some much-needed breathing room with a three-point lead. To do that, the Caps will have to put in a better effort than they did in their lone trip to Sunrise this season, a 5-4 loss December 5 that saw the Panthers take a 3-0 lead in the first period.
The Panthers will play for the first time since the All-Star Break Wednesday looking for a better start to February. In January, the Panthers won just one game in regulation and two of nine overall. That, coupled with the Caps' 6-4-2 record last month, has the standings where they are Wednesday.