Florida Panthers at Washington Capitals
By TAYLOR BECHTOLD
(AP) -- The Washington Capitals found a way to record their best scoring effort of the season without Alex Ovechkin.
Now they stand a good chance of building on that performance against the struggling Florida Panthers - especially if their superstar is able to return.
Ovechkin likely will be a game-time decision Saturday night when the Capitals return home seeking their eighth straight win over the Panthers.
After struggling to generate much offense in a 5-2 loss at Calgary on Saturday and a 3-2 loss at Vancouver two days later, Washington (6-7-0) wrapped up a 3-2-0 road trip with a 7-0 rout of Philadelphia on Friday.
Joel Ward notched his first career hat trick for the Capitals, who had been 0-4-0 when Ovechkin failed to score.
Ovechkin did not play because of an upper-body injury after crashing into the net against the Canucks, but coach Adam Oates said his star winger might play Saturday. He led the league with 32 goals on the way to the Hart Trophy last season and ranks among the league leaders with 10 this year.
He's been particularly productive against the Panthers, scoring at least one goal in seven straight meetings and totaling 14 points. Ovechkin had three goals and an assist in the most recent matchup, a 4-3 road victory April 6.
Washington has won each of those seven games, outscoring Florida by a combined 32-12 margin.
If Ovechkin can't go, Eric Fehr is expected to stay at right wing, joining Nicklas Backstrom and Martin Erat on the top line. Fehr and Erat each had two assists Friday, while Backstrom had two goals and an assist.
"We worked as a team," said Backstrom, who has six assists in his last three games versus Florida (3-8-2). "We scored on our chances. That's what you have to do, especially when you have a good goal-scorer out of the lineup."
Following his second-period score against the Flyers, Jason Chimera will try to extend his career-best four-game goal streak. He has four goals and nine points during this hot stretch.
The Panthers lost their fourth straight Friday, falling 4-0 to St. Louis. It was the fifth loss in six games for Florida, which has allowed an Eastern Conference-high 46 goals.
"It's disappointing for all of us. Everybody feels bad about it," coach Kevin Dineen said. "The effort wasn't good enough to compete against one of the top teams in the NHL."
Dineen may have no choice but to give Scott Clemmensen his first start of the season after Jacob Markstrom surrendered four goals on 23 shots Friday. Clemmensen, however, has allowed 10 goals in dropping his last two starts against Washington.
Florida hasn't left its goalies very much room for error, ranking near the bottom of the league with 1.92 goals per game and going 1 for 18 on the power play during a 1-5-2 stretch.
It isn't likely to get any easier against a Washington team that has killed off 30 straight short-handed situations.
Although Braden Holtby is coming off a shutout, he's likely to give way to Michal Neuvirth in the second of back-to-back contests.
Neuvirth, who has given up eight goals while dropping his two starts, is 0-3-0 despite a 2.67 goals-against average in his last four against Florida.
The Capitals averaged 5.5 goals in their four-game sweep of the Panthers last season.
Updated November 2, 2013