The Florida Panthers, who have earned at least one point in 10 of their past 11 games, will play host to the Washington Capitals on Thursday night in Sunrise, Fla.

Washington, which leads the NHL with 25 points, is off to an even better start than the Panthers. The Capitals have won four straight games and eight of nine, with the only loss coming in overtime.

Since winning their first Stanley Cup title in 2018 -- and even despite a first-round playoff loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in 2019 -- the Capitals have kept together their core, including superstar winger Alex Ovechkin, goalie Braden Holtby, centers Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom and defenseman John Carlson.

Scorers and goalies usually get more hype than defensemen, but Carlson may be moving into another echelon with his recent play.

Indeed, Carlson was named the NHL's "First Star" for the month of October, posting seven goals and 16 assists in 14 games. He set the franchise record for points by a defenseman in any month.

"The biggest change for me is just growing up," Carlson told The Washington Post. "I can't stand in the background anymore."

Carlson, 29, was referring to the fact that he was made an alternate captain this season for the first time in his career. A spot opened up for his captaincy after defenseman Brooks Orpik retired, and Carlson -- who made his NHL debut with the Capitals in 2009 -- has taken his leadership to another level.

Certainly, Ovechkin, who has won the NHL goal-scoring title a league-record eight times, is still Washington's main offensive threat. He leads the team with 11 goals.

But other players are starting to make bigger contributions. Carlson, who leads the team with 23 points, is at the top of that list. But there is also second-line winger Jakub Vrana, who posted his first career hat trick in Washington's most recent game, a 4-2 win over the Calgary Flames on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Panthers, who are 3-1-1 at home this season, are led by winger Jonathan Huberdeau, who tops Florida in goals (nine) and points (18).

Panthers center Aleksander Barkov leads the team in assists (15) but has just two goals after scoring a career-high 35 last season.

Mike Hoffman, who led the Panthers with a career-high 36 goals last season, has six in this campaign. But Hoffman has scored just one goal in his past 10 games.

"I think we have a lot to prove," said Joel Quenneville, who is in his first season as Florida's coach but has already had a brilliant career with three Stanley Cup titles while leading the Chicago Blackhawks. "(Barkov) has a ton of talent. (Defenseman Aaron Ekblad) has had a nice start to his season and does a lot of nice things. (Huberdeau) is getting hot right now -- great playmaker, play-recognizer, and he's patient with the puck. But we have a long way to go."

Both the No. 1 goalies in this matchup -- Florida's Sergei Bobrovsky and Braden Holtby for Washington -- have had several days to rest and are expected to start on Thursday.

Bobrovsky is 6-2-3 with a 3.36 goals-against average and an .882 save percentage. Holtby is 6-1-3 with a 3.30 GAA and an .895 save percentage.

--Field Level Media

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