Number Nine, Number Nine – The Washington Capitals did not play their best game on Friday against the Florida Panthers, but some strong goaltending from Michal Neuvirth and another 20 minutes of third-period dominance were enough to push the Caps to a 4-1 win over the Cats.
“Right from our coaching staff to our players we’re consistent and we’ve been working hard,” says Caps defenseman Brian Pothier. “We’ve been diligent, and it’s paying off for us. We make mistakes. Tonight wasn’t our best game, but we gutted it out. I think good teams find a way to win even when they don’t play great.”
The victory was Washington’s ninth in a row, the second-longest streak in franchise history.
“I don’t think we came out and played particularly well,” says veteran winger Mike Knuble, who tallied twice. “Neuvy held us in there. Still, we managed to get to the third [with a 2-1 lead]. And we are just playing with so much confidence in the third.”
The Caps have developed a killer instinct in the third period during this winning streak, regularly going for the jugular.
During the life of Washington’s nine-game winning streak, it has outscored the opposition by a combined 19-3, and it has scored at least one goal in the third period of all nine of those games.
“We know if it’s close going into the third,” says Knuble, “we just rally around and get things going. It’s just in the third period we’ve been able to go to another level. I haven’t seen anything like it, just the consistency of how we do it. Some teams can do it once in a while, but we’re just doing it all the time. So it’s fun, a lot of fun.”
Neuvirth entered the game with a 5.16 GAA and an .806 save pct. in two career appearances against the Panthers. He stopped 35 of the 36 shots he faced, and he has now stopped 104 of the last 108 (.963 save pct.) pucks sent in his direction.
“Neuvy really stood on his head,” says Caps blueliner Jeff Schultz. “I think we relied on him a little too much tonight, but he was up to the challenge.”
Dozen – With tonight’s win, the Capitals have run their January record to 12-2. In doing so, they’ve matched their franchise single-month standard for wins, established in Dec. 1984 when they went 12-2-2.
Dozen, Part Deux – In the Capitals’ last 12 games, all 18 of the skaters dressed for tonight’s game has scored at least one goal.
Retaliatory Strike – Knuble’s first goal of the night came just 25 seconds after Stephen Weiss had scored for the Panthers to even the game at 1-1. Knuble’s goal is the fastest Washington goal after an opponent’s goal this season.
Killers – The Capitals have now recorded a power-play goal in eight straight contests, and lead the league with 54 power play goals. The Caps are 15 for 37 (40.5%) on the power play in their last 11 games. They are now 16-0-1 when they don’t allow a power-play goal and score one of their own.
The Capitals were a perfect 5-for-5 on the penalty kill against the Cats and have not allowed a power play goal in five of their last six games (25-for-26, 96.2%). The Caps are 22-1-3 when they do not allow a power-play goal.
Going Green – Caps defenseman Mike Green left the game after a collision with Florida’s Dmitry Kulikov in the second period. Before departing, Green notched his 40th assist of the season. He is now just two assists shy of his single-season career best of 42, established last season.
Home Cooking – Washington won its 20th home game in 26 tries (20-3-3) with its Friday victory over the Panthers. The Capitals are the first Eastern Conference team to reach 20 home ice wins this season.
The Caps have now won eight straight games at Verizon Center. Tonight’s game was also the 40th consecutive regular season sellout at the Phone Booth.
Four Score – The Caps have scored four or more goals in each of the last five games and 12 of the last 13.
Where’s My Forty? – The Capitals are now 9-0-1 this season in games win which they launch 40 or more shots on goal.
Slump Busters – For the third straight game, a Caps defenseman known more for his defensive prowess ended a lengthy goalless drought of at least 41 games.
On Tuesday against the Islanders, John Erskine netted his first goal in more than two calendar years, and a span of 109 games. On Wednesday against the Ducks, Shaone Morrisonn’s game-winning goal was his first lamp-lighter in a span of 63 games.
Tonight, it was Schultz’s turn. The big blueliner netted his second of the season and his first in 41 games.
Brooks Laich created a healthy diversion in front to keep Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun from getting a good look at the shot, and there was some question as to whether or not Laich may have gotten a piece of the puck en route to its destination.
Schultz was asked afterward if he had retained credit for the tally.
“I hope so because they don’t come very often for me,” says Schultz. “I am going to do everything I can to keep it mine.”
Multiple Men – With Knuble’s two-goal night on Friday, nine different Washington skaters have combined for a total of 38 multiple-goal games on the season.
Knuble now has 18 goals on the season. He is on the cusp of his seventh straight 20-goal campaign. The rugged power forward has 11 goals in his last 12 games. Among all NHL players aged 35 and over, Knuble leads in goals.
“We were joking,” says Pothier of Knuble, “every time he scores it’s like he passes it to the goalie’s pads and then he goes and just pushes the goalie into the net and that’s how he scores the goal. He drop passes the puck into the net. That’s how he does it. But he’s been doing it for 15 years now and he’s the best in the league at it. Him and [Detroit’s Tomas] Holmstrom do it better than anybody.
“Mike is special. He knows what he’s good at. He doesn’t want the puck unless he is in the blue paint, and that’s fine with him.”
Nick’s Night – Backstrom was brilliant from start to finish in this one, as has been the case often lately. His goal was his 22nd of the season, matching his single-season career best of last season.
Cooled Off – Vokoun entered Friday’s game as one of the league’s hottest netminders. He came in with a 7-3-2 January record and a 1.41 GAA and a .958 save pct. for the month.
If you take away Vokoun’s two January outings against Washington, he is 7-3-1 with a 1.18 GAA and a .965 save pct.
Against Washington this month, Vokoun is 0-1-1 with a 3.84 GAA and an .896 save pct.
By The Numbers – Erskine paced the Caps with six hits on the night … Tomas Fleischmann won only five of his 15 draws on the night, but one of those wins led directly to Schultz’s third-period goal … Washington had 22 shots blocked tonight. Florida’s Jordan Leopold led the way with six.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears opened up their weekend with an 8-6 firewagon hockey road win over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
The Bears have won 18 of their last 19 games, and they’ve scored eight or more goals in three consecutive games for the first time since 1983-84.
Hershey heads home to face the Albany River Rats on Saturday at Giant Center. The Bears have won a franchise record 14 straight games on home ice. With 72 points on the season, the Bears hold a 15-point bulge over the River Rats in the AHL’s East Division.
Down a level, the South Carolina Stingrays dropped a 3-2 overtime decision in Cincinnati on Friday. The Stingrays are winless (0-2-1) in their last three, but they still hold a 15-point lead over Florida in the ECHL’s South Division.
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