Regression – Two nights after earning their first win under head coach Dale Hunter, the Caps dropped a 5-4 decision to the Panthers in Florida.
Florida used three power play goals to forge a 5-1 lead by the middle of the second and the Caps came back to score three unanswered in the final 20 minutes and 20 seconds to make it look respectable.
Washington forechecked and cycled well in even-strength play, but wasn’t able to create enough strong scoring chances from that offensive zone presence early in the game.
“We didn’t play really well in the first period,” says Caps center Brooks Laich. “It’s not always going to be the first shift of the cycling that gets you the opportunities; it’s going to be a build-up of the first and then the second follows that up and then the third. But when you take penalties it really takes away from your flow and that’s why they had the majority of the chances on the power play and also they’re thinking offensively and they get offensive chances 5-on-5.”
Washington had the game’s first power play early in the first frame, but its extra-man woes continue. Florida scored two power play goals in the first and another early in the second.
“It was too many penalties early and they jumped on us,” says Caps coach Dale Hunter. “It’s one of those things that some of them were … whatever you want to call them, it’s still a penalty. It doesn’t matter if it’s right or wrong in my eyes, it’s their eyes that count. They got three power play goals on us. That hurt.
“We battled. We came back in the third and were inches away from tying it up. The boys showed a lot of character that way and grit, and good things will happen if you keep that up.”
Giving up three power play goals in this one makes for a convenient explanation for the Capitals, but other areas were lacking as well.
The goaltending could have been better. There was far too much stick-checking going in the Caps’ end of the ice. Washington didn’t test a journeyman goaltender enough early, and didn’t generate enough quality scoring chances until Florida went into the prevent defense.
“We got one maybe a little too late,” says Caps’ left wing Jason Chimera, who scored his team-leading 11th goal of the season with 1:44 left in the third. “The game’s too close to give up that many penalties, and when they score on those penalties, you can’t come back from that. Right from the goalie on out, we need a bigger save, we need a lot more effort out of everybody.”
There is no question that taking five consecutive minor penalties in a span of just 16:25 put the Capitals’ penalty killing corps in a tough spot, but the Caps had pulled to within 3-1 late in the first after allowing the first three goals of the contest. Getting an early marker in the second would have done them a world of good. But it was Florida that scored the next two, putting the Caps down four.
The Caps weren’t as good in their own end as they have been, even at even-strength.
“We were watching the puck too much,” says Caps defenseman Karl Alzner. “The same thing happened on their fifth goal. Ultimately, it was the winner. We were all kind of watching [ex-Cap Tomas] Fleischmann do his thing out there and that’s what happens.
“In the first period, we weren’t as good as we can be. There were a few too many odd-man rushes and they were making plays around us. It was just not a very good effort from us in the first two [periods].”
The Caps are now a .500 hockey team (13-12-1) and they’ve won just six of their last 19 (6-12-1) overall.
“We have to have the third-period effort in the first period and then run that for 60 minutes,” laments Laich. “What we’re doing now is not acceptable.
“It’s not acceptable to play hockey for 20 minutes and then not execute for the other 40. We’re not here to try; we’re here to win. You want to be a professional, you judge yourself by your results not your intentions. We’re not satisfied at all tonight.”
The end result was a loss that leaves the Caps seven points behind front-running Florida in the Southeast Division.
“The first five minutes I think we played great,” says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin. “They got that power play goal and after they got that second goal, they felt the game more than us after that.”
Working Men – Caps defenseman John Carlson had three assists on the night, and he also skated 26:04 in the game. For the first time this season, Carlson has skated more than 25 minutes in three straight games. He has two goals and nine points in his last nine games.
Ovechkin logged 22:05 in ice time on the night, the most he has skated in a game this season. He skated 9:50 of that in the third period as the Caps tried to complete the comeback.
“It felt great,” says Ovechkin. “And when I have that kind of trust I have to use it. I have to score goals. I have good chances a couple of times but again, pucks just don’t want to go in when I’m shooting and maybe I just have to when I take a shot I have to look where I have to shoot. Sometimes it goes in, sometimes not.”
Lately, it’s mostly not. Ovechkin has one goal (on 41 shots on goal) and five points in his last 12 games and is minus-7 during that span. Seven of his nine shot attempts in Monday’s game came in the third period.
Water In The Desert – Mike Knuble’s first-period goal ended a 16-game drought without a tally. It was his longest dry spell in nearly a decade. He had a 17-game drought from Oct. 23-Dec. 22, 2001.
A notoriously slow starter, Knuble had just four goals at this stage of the season a year ago, but finished with 24 to eclipse the 20-goal barrier for the eighth consecutive season.
Clemency For Clemmensen – The Caps let Florida understudy Scott Clemmensen off the hook by not testing him early in the game on Monday. He never looked sharp, but by the time the Caps started to get quality scoring chances against him, the Panthers had already staked their goaltender to a multi-goal advantage.
Washington caught a break when ex-Cap Jose Theodore came up ill and did not start Monday’s game. Theodore is 4-1-1 with a 1.83 GAA and a .935 save pct. in his last six starts.
Theodore’s illness made Clemmensen the starter, and the journeyman ran his season mark to 3-0 with a win over Washington.
Clemmensen made his NHL debut against the Caps on Oct. 6, 2001 and the Caps have gotten the better of him over the last three seasons.
Since the start of the 2008-09 campaign, Clemmensen had been 1-5-1 in nine appearances (eight starts) against Washington, posting an unsightly 4.18 GAA and an anemic .853 save pct. in the process.
Powerless – Washington is now 2-for-50 in the last 13-plus games on the power play, a span that includes the team’s last three power play chances in a 5-2 loss to Dallas on Nov. 8.
Not So Special – While the Panthers were scoring three power play goals in six tries, Washington drew only two power plays of its own and failed to convert on either.
The Caps now have two power play tallies in their last 13 games and one of those came on a 5-on-3 man-advantage. Washington has allowed four shorthanded goals during that same span.
Tonight marked the sixth time this season Washington has surrendered multiple power play goals in the same game. Five of those games have come on the road, and the Caps are 0-5 in those contests.
By The Numbers – Dennis Wideman paced Washington with 29 minutes of ice time. Nicklas Backstrom led Caps forwards with 22:07 in ice time … Carlson led the Caps with eight shots on net, matching his single-game career best … Ovechkin and Mathieu Perreault led the Caps with four hits each.