Opposite Directions – Two teams that played Saturday afternoon road games hooked up at Verizon Center on Sunday, but it wasn’t much of a contest. Florida put a 6-2 hurting on Washington here on Sunday, the Capitals’ worst loss on home ice since a 5-1 defeat at the hands of the Atlanta Thrashers on Nov. 21, 2007. That loss to Atlanta turned out to be the final game with Glen Hanlon at the helm for the Capitals.
Washington came into Sunday’s game off an uplifting 4-3 overtime win in Boston on Saturday afternoon. The Panthers, desperate to hold onto what they hope will be their first playoff berth in nine years, absorbed a thorough 7-2 beating at the hands of the Devils in New Jersey.
The Caps scored first on Sunday, but Florida reeled off half a dozen unanswered strikes on its way to an easy win over Washington.
“We stunk,” said Caps coach Bruce Boudreau afterwards. “I’m not sure how I even characterize it, but we got beat to every loose puck, seemed like they had the puck on the power-play for the whole two minutes in our zone every time. I can’t sugar coat it and I can’t find excuses for it. We weren’t very good.”
His players echoed those thoughts.
“There are no excuses for what we did today,” said veteran Caps forward Matt Bradley. “Every guy was not prepared and we didn’t play a tight game at all. It’s disappointing when you have such a good game against Boston yesterday and come back with an effort like this. So we’re all individually going to have to look at ourselves and how we prepared and why we weren’t ready for the game.”
Florida still trails Washington by 13 points in the Southeast Division standings with 18 games to go. But the Panthers moved into sixth place on Sunday and solidified what has been a tenuous hold on one of the eight Eastern Conference playoff berths.
““It was an important two points,” said Panthers coach Pete DeBoer. “The New Jersey game, there was nothing good to say about it. We really tightened things up. We took away time and space (against the Capitals). It was a lot better defensive effort.”
The Panthers have not lost consecutive regulation games since it dropped three straight Dec. 27-31. Florida is now 8-0 in games immediately following losses since those three setbacks at the end of December.
Nick of Time – For most of the afternoon it seemed that Nicklas Backstrom’s scoring streak – the longest current run in the NHL – would be snapped at nine straight games. But in the game’s final minute, Alex Ovechkin took a Backstrom pass and managed to beat Florida goaltender Craig Anderson.
Anderson got a glove on the shot, but it trickled out and fell into the net. It was far from the prettiest of Ovechkin’s 46 goals this season, but it was sufficient to push Backstarom’s streak to 10 straight games with at least a point (four goals, nine assists). The current streak is the longest of Backstrom’s NHL career.
Four in the First – It had been almost two years to the day since Washington last allowed four first period goals to an opponent in a home game. The Panthers were the benefactors of the Capitals’ early-game largesse that time, too.
On Feb. 27, 2007 – the NHL’s trade deadline during the 2006-07 season – the Caps surrendered four first-period goals to the Panthers on their way to a 6-5 shootout loss against Florida.
Can’t Fight the Power – For the fifth consecutive game and the seventh time in the last eight games, Washington scored a goal on its first power play opportunity of the game.
The Capitals are now 14-for-27 (51.9%) in first period power play chances during their last 15 games. Washington is 6-for-31 (19.4%) with the extra man in the final 40 minutes of those same 15 contests.
Quick Strikes – Alexander Semin’s long distance shot against Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas ended Saturday’s 4-3 Washington win over Boston in overtime. Semin scored the first goal of Sunday’s game at the 1:26 mark of the first period, giving him two goals in a span of 1:26.
Sweet Sixteen – Semin’s first period goal marked the 16th straight game in which Washington has scored a goal in the first period. The Caps are now two games shy of matching the franchise record of 18 straight games with a first period goal, established in 1988-89.
Hurting at Home – Sunday’s loss dropped Washington’s home ice record to 25-7-1 on the season. The Caps started the season 21-3-1 on home ice; they are now 4-4 in their last eight games at Verizon Center.
Down a Notch – Sunday’s loss to the Panthers coupled with New Jersey’s whitewashing of Philadelphia drops Washington to third place in the Eastern Conference standings with 18 games to go. The Caps and Devils both have 85 points, but New Jersey has one more win and has played one fewer game.
Ironically, if the season ended today Washington would be facing sixth-place Florida in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Cats are the only team in the league to hand Washington two regulation losses at Verizon Center this season. Florida is 2-2 in four meetings against the Caps in 2008-09.
The two teams meet twice more in South Florida on March 17 and April 11.
Getting Healthy – Coming into Sunday’s game, the Panthers had been blanked on the power play in their previous five games (0-for-14). Florida had exactly three power play goals in its previous 14 games (3-for-49, 6.1%) coming into Sunday’s game.
Florida’s extra-man unit got healthy in a hurry today, netting three power play strikes in the first period against Washington. After scoring three power play goals in a span of 42 periods, the Cats matched that total in a single period against Washington on Sunday.
Killing With Kindness – Sunday’s game marked the second time in their last six home games that the Capitals have surrendered three power play goals in a home game. The Montreal Canadiens nicked the Caps for three power play goals in Washington’s 4-3 shootout win over the Habs on Feb. 18.
Panther Penalty Shots – Theodore stopped Florida’s David Booth on a first-period penalty shot. It was the third Florida penalty shot against Washington; only one of the three has been successful.
Viktor Kozlov beat Caps goaltender Olie Kolzig on a penalty shot for the Swamp Cats back on Feb. 23, 2000. Kozlov, of course, is now with the Capitals.
Down on the Farm – Both of Washington’s minor league affiliates were also in action on home ice this afternoon. The AHL Hershey Bears played host to the Providence Bruins on Sunday at Giant Center while the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays entertained the Gwinnett Gladiators at North Charleston Coliseum.
Hershey took a 6-4 decision over the P-Bruins. Chris Bourque and Alexandre Giroux each tallied twice and Graham Mink and Karl Alzner added single strikes. Giroux and Bourque each had three points, as did Mathieu Perreault (three assists).
Daren Machesney stopped 24 of 28 shots he faced to run his record to 17-9-1 on the season.
The Bears hold a four-point lead over Bridgeport for the top spot in the AHL’s East Division standings.
South Carolina also won its game by a 6-4 count. Jeff Corey and Travis Morin each scored twice and Pierre-Luc O’Brien and Michael Dubuc also tallied for the Stingrays. Jonathan Boutin started in goal for South Carolina, but he was ejected late in the second period after fighting Dan Turple, his Gwinett counterpart.
Goaltender Jeremy Duchesne – son of the late Gaetan Duchesne, longtime Caps winger – stepped in and stopped all 13 shots he faced over the final 20 minutes to earn the win. Duchesne is now 5-9-2 on the season; he is 2-2 since joining the Stingrays.
South Carolina is holding second place in the ECHL’s South Division, 12 points behind front-running Florida.