-- The Florida Panthers have been one of the hottest teams in the NHL lately. However, they’ve failed to pick up much ground on the Washington Capitals in the Southeast Division, thanks in large part to a record-breaking streak from Mike Green.
Green looks to extend the longest goal streak by a defenseman in NHL history by scoring in his ninth straight game Sunday when the Capitals and Panthers square off in Florida.
Florida (28-19-8) is 12-3-3 since the start of January and 7-2-0 in its last nine games. While that surge has significantly bolstered the Panthers’ playoff hopes, it hasn’t brought them much closer to division-leading Washington.
The Capitals (35-16-5) have gone 8-2-2 over their last 12 games to stay 11 points ahead of the Panthers, a hot streak that’s been helped along by Green’s impressive play.
The fourth-year defenseman has 10 goals and seven assists over his last eight games. He’s scored at least one goal in each of those contests, breaking the previous record of seven games set by Boston’s Mike O’Connell during the 1983-84 season.
A goal on Sunday would tie Green with Alan Haworth (1985-86) and Mike Gartner (1986-87) for the overall Washington consecutive game goal streak.
Green scored during a power play in the second period of the Capitals’ 5-1 win over Tampa Bay on Saturday night before getting mobbed on the ice by his teammates.
“I wasn’t expecting that, but I was excited,” Green said about the celebration. “It almost brought a little tear to my eye, so I was pretty jacked up.”
Green has 22 goals in 43 games this season, four more than he had while playing in all 82 games last season. With 28 assists, he’s also on pace to surpass last season’s career-high of 38. Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau refuses to take credit for Green’s improvement.
“He could have had Mickey Mouse coaching and eventually he was going to be a great hockey player,” Boudreau said. “I’m just happy I’m the one who that right now is able to coach Mike.”
Green has three goals and four assists in his last five games against the Panthers. He had two goals and one assist in his only game against them this season, a 3-1 home victory Feb. 7. He didn’t play in the teams’ only other meeting Dec. 2, when the Panthers won 5-3.
Florida is looking for its season-high fourth straight victory after a 2-1 shootout win over the New York Rangers on Friday night. Richard Zednik scored the only goal in the tiebreaker to snap the Panthers’ four-game losing streak in shootouts.
“We haven’t had much luck in shootouts lately, so I thought I’d mix it up a little bit there and threw Richard in there,” Panthers coach Pete DeBoer said of Zednik, who has four goals and two assists in his last five games but hadn’t been used in a shootout before Friday.
“He’s had a hot hand lately and he buried a big goal at a big time for us. He’ll get another opportunity for sure.”
Zednik’s goal gave Tomas Vokoun his fifth straight win at BankAtlantic Center, where he’s 13-4-2 with a 2.14 goals-against average this season. He made 34 saves and stopped all four shootout attempts Friday.
Vokoun, who suffered the 3-1 loss to the Capitals on Feb. 7 in his only game against them this season, is 6-7-0 with a 2.16 GAA in 13 career starts against Washington.
Washington’s Jose Theodore, who had the night off Saturday, is 3-1-0 with a 2.95 GAA in his last four games against the Panthers, including 1-1-0 with a 2.51 GAA this season.