|Dueling back-to-backs as Capitals host Panthers|
WASHINGTON -- It may be early in the NHL campaign, but the Florida Panthers and Washington Capitals are in a hurry to find the consistency needed to string wins together and move up in the standings.
When the teams collide Saturday at CapitalOne Arena, both will be playing the second game of back-to-back sets, with the Panthers coming off a 4-3 home loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Capitals besting the Red Wings 4-3 in overtime in Detroit.
Capitals coach Barry Trotz has tinkered with his lines in the early part of the season, but he has been pleased with the work of forward Devante Smith-Pelly, who has answered the challenge the coach put in front of him.
"He's been consistent," Trotz told reporters. "We talked about being consistent, especially in back-to-back situations, being consistent in your thought process and being really good in an area of your game. I started with a role -- I asked him to be consistent and be really good on the (penalty kill), and to this point he's done that. I have no reason to take him out."
Smith-Pelly is one of several young players Washington (4-3-1) has incorporated into a previously veteran lineup this season, and that youth is still in the process of finding their way on the ice.
"The young people in our organization, all the young guys, they're going to be the lifeline of the franchise for a number of years, so we have to stay the course," Trotz said.
The Panthers (2-4-0) know a few things about young players, as 18-year-old rookie Owen Tippett, the team's first-round draft pick, will play in his third NHL game Saturday and defenseman MacKenzie Weegar will suit up for his fourth contest.
"These are big games for us early on. These ones add up, even at the end of the year," said Weegar, who scored in his season debut Friday.
Florida has struggled on defense, allowing 4.0 goals per game, ranking ahead of just Pittsburgh and Arizona in that category. And, according to coach Bob Boughner, they've relied too much on trying to make spectacular plays instead of simple ones, leading to a spate of missed opportunities.
"We used the old analogy that the mindset is we're trying to hit a home run every shift," Boughner told reporters. "We told them it's OK to have some even shifts, that there are going to be some surges either way. Both teams are going to have some push and it's how you handle that push. It's OK to hit singles to set it up. We don't have to hit a home run on every shift."
The Capitals will go with Philipp Grubauer in net, much to the chagrin of workhorse Braden Holtby, who picked up the win Friday.
"It's always a challenge to navigate the schedule and make sure you're ready at all times," Holtby told the team's website. "I like to play, I like to skate -- it's easier that way. But every year that goes by, you get a little bit smarter at it."
Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo left Friday's game with a hand injury and was replaced by James Reimer. The team had no update on Luongo's condition after the game.