|Capitals look to get back on track against Panthers|
SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Washington Capitals lead the Metropolitan Division, but they have lost four of the past six games.
Going back further in this worrisome Capitals stretch, they have lost nine of their past 15 games heading into Thursday night's game against the host Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center.
Capitals star goalie and two-time Vezina Trophy-finalist Braden Holtby has a personal four-game losing streak -- the worst stretch of his career -- and he has taken it upon himself to shoulder the blame during this Washington slump.
"This is on no one but me," Holtby told The Washington Post.
The Capitals (34-19-7), who lead their division by one point over the Pittsburgh Penguins, could face a stiff challenge in the Panthers (26-25-6), who are coming off a successful 3-2-0 road trip.
Florida is out of the playoffs at the moment with just 58 points. They trail the Columbus Blue Jackets by seven points, but the Panthers have played three fewer games.
The Panthers lost 1-0 to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night, putting an impressive 40 shots on net despite some tired legs.
"At the end of a long road trip, I thought we emptied our tanks," Panthers coach Bob Boughner told the media. "We did a lot of things right. We did everything but score.
"We're getting there. We're close."
The Capitals hope they are not just close. They hope that Thursday starts the end of their slump and the beginning of their playoff push.
But in order to get there, the Caps must fix their defense, and they recently made a trade they hope will spark change.
Washington acquired 27-year-old defenseman Michal Kempny from the Chicago Blackhawks late Monday night, and he is scheduled to make his Capitals debut on Thursday.
Kempny is expected to play along John Carlson, among Washington's top four defensemen.
The Caps need him and their other defensemen to perform well because they are allowing 32.7 shots per game, the highest figure in the league. Last season, the Washington defense ranked fourth-best in the NHL in that category, allowing just 27.8 shots, and the result is an increase in goals given up from 2.16 to 3.00.
Over an adjusted 60-minute span at even strength, the Caps are allowing a stunning 13.6 higher-danger shots per game.
Kempny won't be a solution to all of that on his own, but Capitals coach Barry Trotz feels good about the addition to his roster.
"I liked the first meeting with (Kempny)," Trotz told the Washington Times. "You can tell about the person, if he is uneasy or easy in this situation. He seemed to fit in real well with the guys."