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SUNRISE, Fla. — For the second game in a row, the Florida Panthers will face a Russian-born, 30-something, high-scoring forward named Alexander.
The first such experience, Tuesday night at the Dallas Stars, was a disaster for the Panthers, who got blown out 6-1, allowing two goals and one assist by Alexander Radulov.
Thursday night, the Panthers will face the man who, year in and year out, is the most prolific goal-scorer in the game, Alex Ovechkin, as he and the Washington Capitals will visit the BB&T Center.
Ovechkin has 29 goals already this season — nine more than his compatriot Radulov. And unless Panthers goalie James Reimer makes a nearly miraculous recovery from a right-leg injury suffered on Tuesday night, Ovechkin will be facing Florida’s third- or fourth-string netminder.
Harri Sateri rushed in for Reimer when the latter was hurt just 3:48 into Tuesday’s game. It was just Sateri’s third NHL appearance, and, perhaps predictably, he allowed six goals.
“We tried to fight hard for Harri,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner told the media after Tuesday’s loss. “It’s tough.”
What makes it even tougher is that the Panthers were already without their first-string goalie, Roberto Luongo, who has been out since Dec. 4, when he suffered a very similar right leg injury. Both he and Reimer stretched out their right legs to make saves on the plays in which they got hurt, suggesting a muscle pull.
Luongo is due back in early February. In the meantime, the Panthers called up rookie Sam Montembeault, a 21-year-old goalie who was 12-15-2 with a 3.00 goals-against average this season while playing for the Springfield Thunderbirds in the AHL.
“We’re already without our big guy (Luongo),” Boughner said, lamenting his team’s situation. “We were (in Dallas) to get points, and we failed miserably.”
The Panthers (19-21-6) have been failing a lot lately, losing six of their past games.
Thursday’s challenge will be stiff as the Capitals (28-15-5) lead the Metropolitan Division with 61 points.
However, the Capitals have slumped lately, losing three straight games while coming off their bye week. They have scored a total of just six goals during their current skid.
The Capitals felt they made progress in their most recent outing, but it still resulted in a loss, falling 2-1 in overtime to the surging Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday.
“We had more chances this game,” Ovechkin told The Washington Post. “We just have to finish it up. We create lots of chances, but we can’t give the goalie too-easy saves. We have to manage the puck better when we have the opportunity.”
Capitals coach Barry Trotz, clearly frustrated, said his team has to improve “in every area”. He split up all four of his forward lines — including the one with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom — believing they have grown stale.
The Capitals, surprisingly, average just 29.7 shots per game, the lowest total in the league. The Capitals have also given up a league-worst 494 “high danger” chances at even strength, according to the “Natural Stat Trick” website.
“We’re not where we should be,” Trotz told The Washington Times. “We haven’t been giving up more chances, but we’re giving up higher quality chances. We’re giving up too many odd-man rushes and too many breakaways in the last three or four games.”