Season series: Third of four meetings, and second in five days. The Capitals have already swept the Senators at Verizon Center, winning 2-1 on Oct. 15 as part of their 7-0-0 start and more recently prevailing 3-2 in overtime last Saturday to give Dale Hunter his first victory behind the Washington bench. Former Senators draft pick Brooks Laich scored 12 seconds into the extra period.
Big story: It's going to be an uphill battle if Washington is to continue its streak of Southeast Division titles. That much became apparent a little over a week ago when Bruce Boudreau, the architect of that run, was dismissed as coach and Hunter was brought aboard. It was hammered home again Monday night, as the Capitals fell seven points behind the Panthers when their comeback fell one goal short in Florida.
Capitals: Two goals scored 13 seconds apart by Florida put Washington squarely behind the eight ball early in the divisional clash, and the Panthers went on to build a 5-1 lead which they held until the latter stages of the second period. A late goal by Cody Eakin and two more scores in the third by Laich and Jason Chimera brought the Capitals most of the way back, but they left with a 5-4 defeat, their third in four games since Hunter took the job. All four games Hunter has coached have been decided by one goal.
"We battled, we get back in the third, inches away from tying it up," Hunter said. "The boys showed a lot of character that way."
Senators: A three-goal third-period rally brought Ottawa back from a 2-1 deficit Monday against Tampa Bay, as the Senators halted a brief two-game losing streak with a key 4-2 victory. Captain Daniel Alfredsson tied the score at 8:58 with the 395th goal of his career, then Nick Foligno and Zack Smith tallied 46 seconds apart in the final five minutes of regulation. Smith's insurance goal was his second of the game and eighth of the season in just 27 games, two more than he had in 71 career games entering the 2011-12 campaign.
"He's playing well," Alfredsson said of Smith. "His whole line (which includes Erik Condra and Kaspars Daugavins) ... 5-on-5, they're taking a bigger role and doing a great job with it. I think they complement each other really well. They're all good with the puck and they're all smart players."
Who's hot: Chimera has five goals in the last seven games for the Capitals. Laich has goals in consecutive games. John Carlson has four assists in the last two games. … Smith has five goals in as many games for the Senators. Alfredsson has one goal and four assists during a four-game point streak. Jason Spezza has three goals and five assists in his last eight games.
Injury report: Washington defencemen Roman Hamrlik (lower body), Mike Green (groin), and forward Alexander Semin (shoulder) are day-to-day. Defenceman Tom Poti (groin) and forward Jay Beagle (concussion) are on injured reserve … Ottawa defenceman Filip Kuba (left shoulder) was placed on injured reserve today and is expected to miss the next 3-4 weeks ... Defenceman Matt Carkner (knee) and forward Peter Regin (shoulder) are on injured reserve. Carkner is on a conditioning stint in Binghamton (AHL), but is expected to be recalled after the B-Sens play tonight and could see action as soon as Saturday. Regin is still targeting a mid-December return.
Stat pack:Mike Knuble also scored for the Capitals on Monday to end a 16-game goal drought. It was his longest since a 17-game drought a decade earlier, spanning from Oct. 23-Dec. 22, 2001 … Senators goalie Craig Anderson drew the secondary assist on Alfredsson's goal. It was his third already this season, tying a career high.
Puck drop: While Hunter was complimentary of Washington's fight, he was critical of their discipline early in Monday's game. Five minor penalties in the game's first 23 minutes led to three power-play goals by Florida. Laich also had some sharp words for his team's efforts.
"It's not acceptable to play hockey for 20 minutes and not the other 40," he said. "You judge yourself by your results, not your intentions. We're not satisfied at all tonight."