Toppled From The Top Spot – Heading into Wednesday’s game against the Panthers, the Caps owned a one-point lead over the Cats in the Southeast Division standings. Florida started the night sitting in ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings.
By night’s end, the two teams had traded places.
Florida downed the Caps 4-2 to take over the top spot in the Southeast and send the Capitals plummeting to ninth in the Eastern Conference.
With first place in the division at stake, neither team seemed to have or to generate much energy. But the Panthers vaulted in front with a pair of goals in the first half of the third period to take a lead they would not relinquish.
In what has been a familiar script for Washington on the road this season, the Caps gave up the game’s first goal and never owned a lead. Their goaltending wasn’t good enough, their special teams weren’t special and they didn’t generate enough in the way of a consistent and sustained offensive attack.
“It’s frustrating,” says Caps center Brooks Laich. “This game could have been a catapult to shoot us off in the second half. Instead, we’re back chasing again. Lack of success on the road is not acceptable.”
As a result, the Caps have now won just six of their last 23 road games (6-14-3).
Florida’s first goal came on a Mikael Samuelsson wrister from the neutral zone that Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth took responsibility for. Thinking Samuelsson was going to send the puck around the back of the Washington net, Neuvirth leaned left to be ready to stop it as it rolled around. But Samuelsson shot it on net, in the opposite direction. It clanged the post and went in.
“I thought he was going to rim it,” says Neuvirth, “I was cheating a little bit and he caught me.
“It was a tough loss. I thought I had a pretty good first period and after that first goal, it wasn’t easy. But I bounced back and gave us a chance to win.”
A later Florida goal was waved off on the ice but was changed to a good goal after video review.
“I thought we played hard,” says Caps head coach Dale Hunter. “It’s the way it goes. One was a long shot that Neuvy would definitely want back and one was [changed]. We were in the game. It’s the breaks of hockey, I guess.”
The Caps were on the power play for just 2:11 of the contest; they generated one shot on goal and did not score with the extra man. Florida cashed in on one of its four extra-man opportunities on the night.
Shooter Tutor? – Florida was using a shooter tutor (goaltender substitute) at one end of the ice at Wednesday’s morning skate. The Panthers had just one healthy netminder – Scott Clemmensen – available at the skate, and so they deployed the shooter tutor at the other end of the ice.
The Caps could use a shooter tutor of a different type, one that could counsel them to get more pucks to the net.
Washington was outshot 38-28 and the Panthers directed a total of 70 shots toward the Capitals’ net while the Caps countered with 51 shot attempts of their own.
For the 12th straight game, Washington was outshot in terms of just shots on net. For the 16th straight game, the Capitals had more shots directed at their net than they directed at the opposition’s goal. And for the 21st straight game, the Caps had 30 or fewer shots on net.
“I think we are,” says Hunter, when asked if he feels like his team is generating enough offensive urgency and consistency. “[Tuesday] night in scoring chances, we outchanced [the Lightning]. Tonight it will be pretty even again.
“We had some good scoring chances. The goalie came up big. It’s a tight game, a 3-2 game in someone else’s building and we pulled the goalie to try to tie it up.”
Lucky 13 – Caps defenseman Karl Alzner picked up an assist on Brooks Laich’s second-period goal. For Alzner, it was his 12th assist and 13th point on the season. The point total is a single-season career best for the 23-year-old rearguard.
Four On Four Score – Laich’s goal came while the two teams were each playing with four skaters. It was Washington’s 11th four-on-four tally of the season, tops in the NHL. No other club has more than eight.
Tough Barn – Washington has now suffered three straight regulation losses to the Panthers at BankAtlantic Center for the first time in more than five years. The last time the Caps were on the short end of three straight regulation road losses in South Florida was a three-game skid from Oct. 20, 2005 to March 22, 2006. Each of those three setbacks came by identical 3-2 scores.
Washington has never lost as many as four straight road games to the Panthers. The Caps will return to BankAtlantice Center for the final time this season on Feb. 17.
Suspension Served – Tonight’s game against the Panthers was the final game of Caps captain Alex Ovechkin’s NHL-mandated three-game suspension. Ovechkin will be eligible to return to the lineup when the Caps return to action this Saturday against the Canadiens in Montreal.
Washington went 1-1-1 in its captain’s absence.
Ovechkin has now missed a total of 20 games during his NHL career. The Capitals are 10-7-3 in those 20 games, and they’ve outscored the opposition by a combined 67-60 in those 20 contests.
The Caps are 5-1 on home ice without Ovechkin, but they are just 5-6-3 without him on the road.
Back In The Lineup – Defenseman Jeff Schultz was back in the Washington lineup for the first time in more than a month, since suiting up for a 4-2 win over the Blue Jackets in Columbus on Dec. 31.
Schultz logged 9:48 spread over 11 shifts against the Panthers on Wednesday. All of his ice time came at even-strength.
Schultz played in 21 of the first 22 games this season under then-head coach Bruce Boudreau. Since Hunter took over, Schultz has played in just seven of 28 games. He had been a healthy scratch in 20 of the Capitals’ previous 22 games prior to Wednesday.
Bodywork – The Caps were physical from the start of Wednesday’s game, outhitting the Panthers by a 13-3 margin in the game’s first frame. The Capitals owned a 38-23 advantage in hits by game’s end.
Not surprisingly, Matt Hendricks led the way with eight hits. He was one of four Capitals to administer five or more bodychecks on the night. Dennis Wideman, Brooks Laich and Jason Chimera each finished with five.
Magic Numbers – Florida scored the game’s first goal on Wednesday. The Panthers are now 16-1-6 when scoring the game’s first goal this season.
The Panthers also raised their record when scoring three or more goals in a game to 18-1-4 on the season. The Cats are 5-14-7 when they tally two or fewer markers in 2011-12.
Net Gain – Clemmensen has now won two straight starts against Washington, lifting his career record against the Capitals to 4-6-1.
Prior to these two consecutive triumphs, Clemmensen had gone 1-5-1 with a 4.18 GAA and an .853 save pct. against the Caps.
By The Numbers – Wideman led the Capitals with 26:09 in ice time. Laich led Washington forwards with 21:40 on the night … John Carlson led the Capitals in both power play ice time (2:11) and shorthanded ice time (2:29) … Roman Hamrlik led the Caps with four blocked shots … Troy Brouwer led Washington with five shots on net … Washington won just 19 of 48 face-offs (40%) on the night … Florida defenseman Jason Garrison launched 11 shots toward the Washington net on Wednesday; he tied for the team lead with four shots on goal. Garrison also had two bids blocked and he missed the net five times … Garrison led the Panthers with four hits.