You’ll Get Nothing And Like It – The Florida Panthers entered Tuesday night’s home game with the Washington Capitals in ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings, one point behind the eighth place Carolina Hurricanes. Given the tightness of the playoff chase, the lateness of the hour relative to that chase and the fact that the Panthers came in winless (0-1-2) in three straight for the first time in calendar 2009, the Caps could have reasonably expected to have their hands full.
Florida had a handful of prime scoring chances in the first period, but Capitals goaltender Jose Theodore swallowed them up, staying square and not permitting rebounds. The Panthers had three power play chances in relatively short order in the second, but Washington’s penalty killers – beleaguered by the Atlanta Thrashers’ power play a night earlier – were up to the task of killing all three without incident. Not only that, Washington generated its first goal of the night while shorthanded.
The Capitals gave Theodore the third period off altogether. Washington held a one-goal lead heading into the final frame, but the desperate Panthers didn’t get as much as a sniff of the Capitals’ crease area. The Swamp Cats flipped five shots netward in the final frame, but none reached their intended mark. Four were blocked en route; another missed the cage.
Afterwards, most of the Caps didn’t even realize they had held the Panthers without a shot on goal for a full 20 minutes – actually, a full 26:07 going back to the latter stages of the second period.
Brooks Laich was asked how it felt to hold a team without a shot for an entire period.
“Which period was that?” he responded. Told it was the third period, Laich replied, “I didn’t know that.”
“Really?” asked defenseman John Erskine, when told about the third period goose egg. Given affirmation, Erskine replied, “It’s our system. The [defensemen] were standing up, the forwards were doing their job and everybody was doing well.”
“I didn’t know that,” said Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “I’ve never been involved in a game where that has happened. It’s a great testament to our players and the commitment that they made tow inning. They can do it when they want to do it.”
There was one guy who knew. He was the guy standing at the end of the ice. Waiting. And watching the Florida shot counter get stuck at 19.
“Tonight, everybody did a great job,” said Theodore. “I was seeing the puck well, the [penalty kill] was great, especially in the third period. No shots, that’s a first for me. All the credit goes to the team.”
Bounce Back Ability – Bouncing back from bad losses has been a hallmark of the Capitals since Bruce Boudreau took over as the team’s head coach on Nov. 22, 2007. Since that date, the Caps have suffered 17 “bad beats:” losses that came by three or more goals (excluding empty-netters) and/or by shutout. Washington is 9-5-3 in the games immediately following those bad beats.
“I thought we played fantastic tonight,” said Laich. “I thought everybody contributed. All four lines were solid. Nobody turned the puck over. On the bench, we weren’t having to yell at guys who were staying out there too long. We weren’t having to yell at guys who turned the puck over.
“We bounced back. Tonight’s a big hockey game. If you look at it, after a disappointing loss [Monday] night, now we’ve won four of our last five instead of losing our last two. It’s a big hockey game for us. We can enjoy the day off [Wednesday] and get back to work on Thursday.”
Short Stuff –Brooks Laich’s shorthanded strike in the second period against Florida was his first shorthanded goal of the season, the sixth of his career and his first since March 27, 2008 at Tampa Bay. It also turned out to be his third game-winner of the season.
Laich’s shorthanded strike was Washington’s first since Mike Green tallied an empty-net shorthanded goal – also against the Panthers – on Feb. 7.
Caps defenseman John Erskine collected a single assist on the play, his first point since a Nov. 10 assist against the Lightning at Verizon Center. The shorthanded helper was the third of Erskine’s career, and his first since Oct. 29, 2007 at Toronto.
Doubling Up – Erskine came into Tuesday’s game with two assists on the season. He picked up helpers on each of Washington’s first two goals against the Swamp Cats, doubling his season total to four in the process.
The two-point night was Erskine’s first since he registered a pair of assists against New Jersey on Dec. 10, 2007.
Back-to-Back, Jack – Washington has now concluded all of its 13 sets of back-to-back games for the 2008-09 season. The Caps finished 6-6-1 in the second half of those 13 back-to-back sets this season. Florida supplied the opposition for each of the second half of Washington’s last three pairs of back-to-backs. The Caps went 2-1 in those last three games against the Panthers.
Shoe’s On The Other Foot – We’ve written a decent amount in this space about the Capitals often taking for more shots than they actually have shots on goal in a lot of their games this season. Tonight, that shoe was on the other foot.
As mentioned earlier, Florida managed just 19 shots on goal for the night. The Panthers had 20 shots blocked by Washington defenders, and the Cats missed the cage on 13 other shot attempts.
Caps defenseman Tom Poti led the way, blocking seven shots. After a difficult night against the Thrashers on Monday, Poti was tremendous against the Panthers. He led all Washington skaters with 5:20 in shorthanded ice time. Poti was on the ice for two-thirds of all the Capitals’ shorthanded ice time on the night.
Sub 30 – Tuesday’s game marks the fewest shots on goal (25) the Caps have managed in their last 20 games. It was just the second time in those 20 games that Washington did not register at least 30 shots on goal in a game.
Big Bombers – Caps wingers Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin entered Tuesday night’s tilt with the Panthers as the league’s two most prolific players in terms of shots on goal this month. Including Tuesday’s game, Ovechkin has 55 and Semin 42 shots on goal in March.
F Street – With the return of center Sergei Fedorov to the lineup after a three-game absence because of a bout with the flu, Caps coach Bruce Boudreau re-jiggered his line forward lines against Florida. The “F Street” trio of Tomas Fleischmann and Eric Fehr flanking pivot Sergei Fedorov was reunited for the first time in a couple of weeks.
Takeaway Twins – Semin and Nicklas Backstrom are tied for third in the NHL with 69 takeaways each. Semin leads all players in the league with 19 takeaways in the month of March, seven more than anyone else during the same span.