Washington is trying to build on best game of season

The Capitals held a players-only meeting on Friday and promptly played their best game so far in 2013. Coincidence? Probably. But no one is ready to throw a party yet, either. They remain in last place in the Eastern Conference, after all.

At least Washington's 5-0 win over the Florida Panthers on Saturday night at Verizon Center was a start. The key now is to build off that victory in a rematch Tuesday in Sunrise, Fla. Without another strong effort, all of that hard work over the weekend goes to waste. And after a 3-8-1 start, the Caps can't afford to begin a three-game road trip by reverting to form.

"If we use it to our advantage, it can put a lot of confidence in our team," goalie Braden Holtby said of Saturday's performance. "But that's only talk. We have to make sure that we come to work ... and make sure this road trip in Florida, we improve on every game and we're not satisfied with this one."

Up next
Capitals at Panthers
When » Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.
Where » BB&T Center,
Sunrise, Fla.

Holtby will make his second consecutive start in goal, according to coach Adam Oates. He posted his fourth career shutout Saturday. Meanwhile, injured forward Brooks Laich (forward) traveled with the team -- though as of Monday afternoon he had not been cleared for contact during practice. That is the next big step for him as he inches toward a return.

Struggling forward Marcus Johansson did not make the trip, however. He was considered a healthy scratch Saturday against the Panthers, but Oates said Johansson actually has sustained an upper-body injury and is day-to-day. He scored a goal last week against Toronto but was far less effective in a 5-2 loss at Pittsburgh on Thursday.

Johansson's absence gives another opportunity to center Mathieu Perreault, who had been a healthy scratch himself in the five games since a Jan. 29 loss at Ottawa. But back in the lineup on the third line Saturday, he and linemates Eric Fehr and Joel Ward had a dominant game. Perreault finished with a goal and an assist.

"There's no Marcus on the ice, but at the same time it's another chance for me," Perreault said. "I think last year same thing happened [with Nicklas Backstrom]. Nicky got a concussion, and they gave me [ice time]. So, yeah, I think I've been showing that when guys get hurt, if they need help, I'm always there to jump in."

But he, too, can't afford a letdown, Perreault said, or he will be right back in the press box watching. The Caps preached about not taking Florida lightly Saturday, and they didn't. But the Panthers (4-6-1, nine points) remain two points ahead of Washington in the Eastern Conference standings. Former Caps player Tomas Fleischmann leads Florida with nine points (three goals, six assists) in 11 games.

"[Saturday's win] doesn't dictate anything," forward Matt Hendricks said. "It's a job well done, a pat on our back from the coaching staff. But they're asking for a lot more from us, and we're asking for a lot more from ourselves."