Pouncing On The Cats – The Panthers hit town in the wee hours of Thursday, weary from a 6-5 home ice shootout win over Colorado that put an end to a five-game winless skid. The Cats start their home games at 7:30, and the addition of an overtime and a shootout to the end of regulation of the game with the Avs kept them from their Washington hotel rooms even longer.
Thursday’s game against the Caps was the second in as many nights for Florida and the third in four nights. The Caps knew the Cats were tired, and they pounced early and often, cruising to a 6-2 win. Alexander Semin led the way for Washington, collecting two goals and two assists in his first game back in the lineup after missing the last seven games because of injury.
“I like the way we followed the game plan in the beginning,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “We thought they’d be tired and if we attacked them early and got them down, they might not have the strength to come back. I don’t know if that was the reason, but it worked well.”
The victory puts Washington 14 points ahead of fourth-place Florida in the Southeast Division standings. The Caps are 3-0 against the Cats this season, with each victory coming by a margin of three or more goals.
Washington has lacked a killer instinct at times this season, but it mauled Florida, bringing out the worst in the fragile and irascible Cats. Not only were the Panthers tired when they got to the District, they were likely frustrated over the way things have gone for them recently.
The Cats hairballed a few two-goal leads in the game against the Avalanche, most egregiously when they surrendered a pair of goals 37 seconds apart in the game’s final minute to allow Colorado to even it up at 5-5.
In their Monday night game against Atlanta, Panthers defenseman Keith Ballard notoriously took a two-handed swipe at the goalpost but instead administered an unintentional shave and haircut to No. 1 Panthers netminder Tomas Vokoun. Without Vokoun in goal, the Panthers have struggled mightily this season.
Scott Clemmensen came on in relief of Vokoun in Atlanta, only to surrender the game-winner with six seconds left. Clemmensen was nicked for five goals on 34 shots on Thursday against the Avs, and he got the start on Thursday in the District, too.
His night was a short one.
After allowing two goals on 11 shots in just under 12 minutes of work, Clemmensen was given the rest of the night off.
Once the Panthers fell into a hole, they reacted like wounded animals, snarling and taking a succession of dumb (and aggressive) penalties. Florida got three minors for slashing, one for hi-sticking, one for instigating, one for elbowing, one for boarding and a major for fighting.
Rookie Alexander Salak sports a spiffy 15-1 record in the AHL this season, but he was torched for four goals on 33 shots in his second NHL game, both relief efforts. The Caps enacted a “mercy rule” of sorts late in the game, needlessly passing the puck around the perimeter on the last of their 12 power plays when the game was still 6-0, passing up chances to shoot.
When the Panthers scored a pair of late goals, they also saddled Salak with a hard-luck loss, his first NHL decision.
Divisional Dominance – The Caps are off to a perfect 6-0 start against Southeast Division opponents this season. It is the first time since Washington was gerrymandered into the newly formed division in 1998-99 that the Capitals have won six straight divisional games at the start of the season.
A Rare Laugher – Seventeen of the Caps’ first 27 games this season were decided by one goal, with Washington posting a 7-4-6 mark in those games. Thursday’s thumping of the Panthers represented the Caps’ biggest winning margin in any game this season and the most since a 5-1 win over the Lightning in Tampa on Feb. 14.
Prior to tonight’s game, four of the Caps’ last five wins were by a single goal.
Five Spot – Eric Fehr’s first-period assist ran his scoring streak to a career-high five games. He has six goals and 11 points and is plus-7 in his last dozen games.
Varly At Home – When Caps goalie Semyon Varlamov surrendered a third-period goal to Florida’s Stephen Weiss, it ended a personal Verizon Center shutout streak of 155:07.
Thursday’s win over Florida pushed Varlamov’s record for the season to 11-1-2 and his career record is now 15-1-3.
Short Stuff –Matt Bradley netted the Caps’ first short-handed goal of the season early in the second period. That goal broke the Panthers’ back. The Caps led 2-0 to start the second, but Florida came out strong and drew a holding the stick minor on Caps defenseman John Erskine. Had they scored on that power play, the Cats could have halved the Washington lead.
Instead, Bradley’s goal took the life out of them.
“I think it was,” answers Boudreau, when asked if Bradley’s goal was the tipping point. “The second period we thought, ‘Okay, they’re going to put a push on and this is where we have to push back.’ And if we could win the second period, we thought we could win the game.”
Half A Sawbuck – Bradley’s goal was his fifth of the season, one more than he had in 2008-09. His career high is nine, set in his sophomore season of 2001-02 when he was a member of the San Jose Sharks.
First (Real) Offense – Caps defenseman Karl Alzner incurred just the second minor penalty of his 34-game NHL career on Thursday when he was whistled for hi-sticking in the second period. Alzner’s only previous minor was a delay of game call against Edmonton on Jan. 13.
Fire Away – The Caps launched 18 shots in the first period of Thursday night’s game, a single-period best for the team this season. The Capitals outshot Florida 18-6 in the first frame, and actually outfired the Cats 32-8 in the first. Washington had 14 shots (seven were blocked and seven missed the net) that did not go on goal in the first while Florida had just two (one blocked, one missed).
Isn’t Irony Ironic? – In the wake of all the media furor, hubbub and vilification over the recent Alex Ovechkin suspension, it’s ironic to note that an absolutely clean hit sparked a sequence in which one player – playing in his second NHL game – picked up 27 minutes worth of penalties and enabled the Caps to push the score from 4-0 to 6-0.
With the Caps up by four early in the third, Washington’s Alexandre Giroux administered an unquestionably clean hit behind the Florida goal on Panthers’ defenseman Dmitry Kulikov. Kulikov went down, got up, and dusted himself off. No harm done.
Giroux skated out to neutral ice, at which point Panthers forward Mike Duco launched himself off the bench at Giroux, who did not have the puck. (There should have been an interference call there, but the officials were probably feeling sorry for the Panthers by this point.) Duco then tossed his gloves off and started throwing punches at Giroux, who was still prone on the ice.
Duco got a minor for instigating, a major for fighting, a 10-minute misconduct and a game misconduct.
Afterwards, Giroux and Duco had vastly different accounts of what went down.
“I thought it was a clean hit,” says Giroux, “so I didn’t expect anything to happen after that.
“When it’s six to nothing, I guess they’re a little frustrated. Everyone said it was clean, so I don’t know. You gotta protect yourself after a hit I guess.”
“He [Alexandre Giroux] took a couple runs out there,” says Duco, “and I acted suddenly and probably shouldn’t have but that’s part of the game and if he wants to take liberties on our younger guys people have to stick up for them. I just tried to do what I could. I might have done the wrong thing at the time but things happen. I thought [Giroux] was going to get up and go back at me after last year [in the AHL] we had a couple battles and I just figured if I did that he’d come back at me. I guess he didn’t so it’s probably a mistake on my part.”
That’s “part of the game?”
“It’s almost what the game has come to,” laments Boudreau. “You get a good hit and not a hard hit and you take exception to a hit. Hockey used to be that you hit a guy hard and that’s what it’s all about. Now you hit a guy hard and you think you’ve got to retaliate. It’s stupid. It’s a dumb thing. It took away any chance for their team to win the game.”
The play was stupid. It was dumb. But then Duco compounded that transgression by concocting a story about “a couple battles” with Giroux in the AHL. Duco fought Hershey’s Greg Amadio and Kyle Wilson in one of the two meetings between Hershey and Rochester last season, but Giroux took not so much as a minor penalty in either game.
For what it’s worth, longtime Hershey observers have no recollection of any previous “battles” between Giroux and Duco.
Tough Town – Clemmensen has allowed nine goals in just over 70 minutes or work on Verizon Center ice this season. He is now 1-3 with a 3.66 GAA and an .864 save pct. at the Phone Booth during his NHL career.
By The Numbers – The Caps teed up 84 shots on Thursday. They got 44 of them on goal, the team’s single-game high for the season and the most since the Caps fired 45 in Toronto on Mar. 24 … The Caps netted three power play goals in a game for the first time this season and the first time since they scored three with the extra man against Buffalo on Apr. 3 … Washington has now outscored its opponents by a combined 36-13 in the first period this season.
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