Caps looking to slow down Panthers’ stellar offense


A clean-shaven Evgeny Kuznetsov stepped to the interview podium Monday at MedStar Capital Iceplex and was, as he is to be, jovial. 

He was quick-witted, full of laughter, and right from the first question of his press conference, full of humor. 

He was asked about the upcoming series with the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Panthers and what it’d take to win the series. Kuznetsov’s answer was, to be fair, true. 

“Score more goals,” he said, cracking up at his answer. 

But while he’s not wrong, the job is far easier said than done — especially if the Capitals’ goal is to outscore the league’s top-scoring team. 

The Panthers scored more goals (337) than any team in the league. It was the first time since the 1995-96 season that a team averaged more than four goals per game. 

They were led by their 115-point winger, Jonathan Huberdeau, as four players on the Panthers scored 30 goals or more. Those four, per their lines at morning skate Monday, are spread across three different lines. Fourteen players scored at least 10 goals for the Panthers. Each line has at least one double-digit goal-scorer. 

“I think the key is playing in the o-zone, smart puck decisions, really just not get turnovers,” winger T.J. Oshie said. “They are obviously an offensive team, they know how to create offense so we just got to be hard defensively and not give them any free offense, not turn over unnecessary pucks and kind of feed onto their transition.”


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Their success hasn’t just come by way of a stellar power play or a handful of players carrying the load. Per Natural Stat Trick, the Panthers led the league with 218 five-on-five goals — 10 goals more than the second-place Leafs.

Florida's five-on-five goals were the most since Natural Stat Trick began tracking five-on-five stats in the 2007-2008 season. Just four teams (the 2009-10 Capitals with 208 and the 2018-19 Lightning and Leafs with 206) have scored more than 200 five-on-five goals in a season in that timeframe.

“It’s probably simple, work hard and be heavy on our forecheck, most important,” defenseman Dmitry Orlov said. “If we are able to do that, put puck in the right place in the offensive zone, we still can find a way to win and make plays and it is important. I think it is going to be important who has more puck in this series, especially like I said, they are good offensively. If they have the less puck it is going to be tough for them.”

At five-on-five this season, the Panthers have certainly controlled the puck, though.

They created the most offense (4,300 shot attempts), the most shots on goal (2,437, or 29.72% per game) and created the most high-danger opportunities (935, or 11.4 per game).

They’re deadly offensively, and while they don’t have the individual star-power like a Sidney Crosby that the Capitals have faced in the last 15 years in the postseason, they’re perhaps more potent with the puck than any team the Capitals have faced in the playoffs since the lockout in 2004-2005. 

But in that time since the lockout, while the Capitals scored goals in bunches themselves, the Panthers have largely been one of the league’s quietest teams. The 2021-22 season was the franchise’s second with more than 100 points, and was by far (by 19 points), the best season in their history. 

Their rise has come on the backs of young forwards Aleksander Barkov (26), Huberdeau (28) and defenseman Aaron Ekblad (25) and they’ve certainly not been shy about adding whatever talent they could fit under the salary cap. They added Anthony Duclair and Sam Bennett, and this year brought in Claude Giroux at the trade deadline this season to give the Panthers yet another offensive weapon. 

And while experience is certainly going to matter in the postseason, Kuznetsov offered up a bit of a contrarian opinion to what most might think of come the playoffs. 


“I’m actually a believer of the opposite,” Kuznetsov said of the Capitals’ experience being a positive. “I believe the more young guys you have the less pressure it gives to the team because the other teams, they know how it felt and I always believe the opposite. The more young guys you have it’s a little bit easier for the team.”

The Florida Panthers, in a few ways, mirror a bit of what the Capitals used to look like in the early days of the Alex Ovechkin-era: Fast, loaded with talent and blessed with an ability to score goals at an alarming rate for opponents. 

The Capitals' job now is to shut down the league’s best offense, by any means necessary. If they don’t, the nights will almost certainly be long and the series will almost certainly be short.

“We are pretty experienced in there to know that once you get to an NHL playoffs, the gap in playoffs is so much closer than in the regular season,” Oshie said. “Now, if we don’t play to our best ability and don’t play our game, they are probably going to score a lot of goals so they have that ability. But we have that ability also, if we are playing our game and playing as a team and taking care of each other and making smart puck decisions.”