Big Game Hunting – On the outside looking in on the playoff picture and with a grueling stretch of hockey (six games in nine nights, five of them on the road) on their immediate horizon, the Capitals have a slew of big games ahead of them. But none was bigger than tonight’s four-pointer against the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers.
With a chance to close the gap between the two teams to just two points, Washington badly needed a regulation win. The Caps got that victory in 2-1 close shave fashion, and in doing so overcame a good bit of adversity.
The Caps surrendered the game’s first goal in the final minute of the first period. They poured 29 shots toward the Florida net in the second period – getting 13 of them on net – only to be denied at every turn. What looked like a goal from winger Mike Knuble late in the second was not only waived off, but became a Florida power play when Knuble was hit with a goaltender interference call.
Coming back to win after having to deal with a lot of adversity could prove to be big for the Capitals.
“Their goalie [Jose Theodore] was good tonight,” says Caps coach Dale Hunter. “We just kept getting more pressure and more pressure, kept getting pucks to the net. The guys did a good job of getting traffic in front of [the net] and they got rewarded for it.”
Trailing 1-0 and with 1:15 of Panthers power play time to kill off at the start of the third, the Caps persevered and prevailed.
Washington drew four third-period power plays, scoring their first goal on an Alex Ovechkin extra-man tally at 4:47 of the third period. Alexander Semin supplied what would prove to be the game-winning goal at 13:27, and the Caps held on to take two key points.
“It’s a huge game,” says Caps goaltender Tomas Vokoun. “Just a spark for our team, both Alexes scoring. It was a tough goal [waved off], you can feel sorry for yourself, and we even got a penalty for that. We killed the penalty and obviously came up with a huge win.”
Florida is now 10-2-3 when leading after one period of play and 16-1-4 when leading after two.
Carry Fourth – Washington’s fourth line of Jay Beagle, Jeff Halpern and Joel Ward was the team’s best unit early in the game. The trio forechecked hard, wore down the opposition along the walls and in the corners and consistently funneled pucks toward the net.
The threesome combined for nine hits and nine shots on goal. Halpern worked 12:26 on the night while Beagle logged 10:23 and Ward 10:04.
“It’s huge when you play down low and you cycle and you wear down their defense,” says Beagle. “You create momentum for the team, and that’s what we’re out there to do, [create] energy and get some chances. Hopefully, some of those start going in soon.”
Start Me Up – Florida is now 18-2-6 when it scores the first goal of the game this season. The Cats had struggled in their starts of late. In each of their previous three games and in five of their last six contests before tonight, the Panthers surrendered a goal within the game’s first six minutes.
Back In The Saddle – After a three-game healthy scratch absence from the lineup, Knuble was back in the lineup for Washington on Friday night in Florida.
Knuble had a goal called back, picked up a power-play assist on Ovechkin’s goal, had three hits, two shots on goal and a blocked shot in 11:34 of work in his return to the lineup. He logged 1:19 of power-play time and 20 seconds while the Caps were shorthanded. Knuble was also on the ice at game’s end while Washington was trying to protect its one-goal lead.
The goal that was called back would have been his first since Dec. 5 when he scored here against the Panthers.
“There’s no doubt it’s frustrating,” admits Knuble. “But at the same time, you’ve got to try and say to yourself, ‘You’re in the right spot, let’s get those old feelings back, that you’re in the right spot and where you’re supposed to be.’ It’s almost not shocking when it’s waved off; in that respect, that’s how it’s going.”
Since he joined the Caps for the start of the 2009-10 season, Washington has won just nine of the 19 games (9-8-2) Knuble has missed for any reason.
Old Pals – Tonight’s goaltending match-up featured a pair of 1994 Montreal Canadiens draft choices. Florida’s Theodore was Montreal’s second-round choice (44th overall) in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft and Washington’s Vokoun was the Habs’ ninth-round selection (226th overall) the same summer.
The two made their NHL debuts within a year of one another, Theodore getting his baptism in the league on Feb. 21, 1996 and Vokoun following less than a year later on Feb. 6, 1997.
Nearly 18 years after both were drafted, both are still going strong. Going into Friday’s game, Theodore was 275-241-60 with 32 shutouts, a 2.68 GAA and a .909 save pct. in 613 career NHL contests. Vokoun entered Friday’s game with a 284-280-78 lifetime mark to go along with 48 shutouts, a 2.55 GAA and a .917 save pct.
For Theodore, Friday’s game marked the first time he had faced Washington since Jan. 9, 2008 when he suffered a 2-1 loss to the Caps at Verizon Center while he was a member of the Colorado Avalanche.
For Vokoun, Friday’s game marked his first start as a visiting netminder at BankAtlantic Center since a 3-2 overtime win over the Panthers while he was a member of the Nashville Predators on Dec. 23, 2002.
It hadn’t been so long since the old Montreal farmhands went head-to-head, however. That happened last season, on Nov. 12, 2010 when Vokoun and Florida bested Theodore and his Minnesota Wild by a 2-1 count here at BankAtlantic Center.
When The Spell Is Broken – Tomas Fleischmann’s goal in the first period ended Vokoun’s shutout streak against his former Florida teammates at 176 minutes and 20 seconds. Vokoun pitched a pair of shutouts against the Panthers in his first two games against them as a member of the Capitals this season.
Prior to Fleischmann’s goal, the last goal Vokoun had allowed to the Panthers came when he was a member of the Nashville Predators on Dec. 13 in a 2-2 tie between the Preds and Panthers in Nashville.
Road Power – Washington’s six extra-man chances in Friday’s game were its most since it went 4-for-6 on the power play in a 4-2 home ice win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Dec. 9.
The six power-play opportunities matched the most the Caps have had in any single road game this season. The Capitals were 1-for-6 with the extra man in a 5-2 win over the Flyers in Philadelphia on Oct. 20.
Hot Hands – Semin now has 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists) in his last 26 games.
Howe, Orr In The House – Hockey legends and Hall of Famers Gordie Howe and Bobby Orr were both in attendance at tonight’s game. Both will be celebrating birthdays next month when Howe turns 84 and Orr turns 64.
Biting The Hand – Fleischmann’s goal was the first of his career against the Capitals, the team that gave him his start in the NHL. He now has one goal and three assists in six career games against Washington.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears started their weekend off on a sour note with a 6-0 defeat at the hands of the Bruins in Providence.
Braden Holtby gave up three goals on 10 shots and Dany Sabourin was nicked for three goals on 24 shots in the loss.
The setback was the Bears’ largest margin of defeat since a 7-1 loss at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on. Feb. 13, 2011, and Hershey’s largest shutout loss since a 6-0 loss at Hamilton on Oct. 29, 2008.
Hershey visits Manchester on Saturday night.
The 28-15-4-4 Bears are now third in the AHL’s East Division, three points behind both Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Norfolk.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays lost a 4-1 road decision to the Everblades in Florida on Friday. Daniel Koger scored the Stingrays’ lone goal, and Billy Sauer made 18 saves in the South Carolina nets.
South Carolina plays the Everblades in Florida again on Saturday night.
The 29-22-2-1 Stingrays are third in the ECHL’s South Division, six points behind first-place Gwinnett.
By The Numbers – Each of Washington’s 18 skaters logged at least 10 minutes of ice time … Dennis Wideman led the Caps with 25:47 in ice time … Caps center Marcus Johansson skated 7:16 in the first period of Friday’s game, the most of any Washington forward. Johansson finished the game on virtually the same pace, earning 21:40 in ice time to lead all Caps forwards … Semin and Ovechkin tied for the team lead with six shots on net each. Both took a dozen shots on the night; Semin missed on six and Ovechkin had three blocked and missed on three … Beagle, Troy Brouwer and Matt Hendricks paced the Caps with five hits each … John Carlson led the Caps with four blocked shots … Keaton Ellerby led the Panthers with eight hits … Brian Campbell led the Cats with 31:33 in ice time.