No Ovi? No Problem – Tonight’s tilt with the Panthers marked the ninth game this season in which Caps superstar left wing Alex Ovechkin has not suited up for action for whatever reason. Ovechkin, suspended for two games by the NHL Powers That Be on Monday, sat upstairs at BankAtlantic Center and watched his teammates take on the Florida Panthers.
For the seventh time in nine games without their best player, the Caps won. They defeated fading Florida by a 7-3 count to move 16 points ahead of Pittsburgh for the top spot in the Eastern Conference and seven points ahead of San Jose in the chase for the President’s Trophy.
Brooks Laich scored twice; he was one of six Capitals to find the back of the net. Brendan Morrison scored his first goal since Jan. 26 and had a three-point night. Starting consecutive games for the first time since the conclusion of the Olympic break, goaltender Jose Theodore stopped 34 of the 37 shots he faced.
“I thought we were pretty dominant tonight,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau, “from start to finish. We missed an awful lot of Grade A opportunities. It goes to show that when your best player gets down that the guys are rallying around him. It was almost like [they said], ‘He didn’t deserve to be suspended but we’ll carry on anyway.’ This game and the Chicago game were better than any game we’ve played for a while.”
Once again, Washington has served notice that it is far more than a one-man team. The Caps are 7-2 without Ovechkin in the lineup, and they are 3-0 in the three games in which he was ejected. They are also 2-0-1 in the three games in which he skated fewer than 10 minutes. Take away Ovechkin’s 44 goals – the second highest total in the NHL this season – and the Caps would still lead the NHL in that category (229 to 227 over Vancouver).
“I thought we created a lot of opportunities down low,” says Boudreau. “We talked about crashing the net against these guys because we looked at the last game and we got three goals on second shots. Out of the first five goals [tonight] I think four of the goals were like that, just going to the net and getting rebounds. So it worked. It’s not every day that it works when you write it up, but it worked today.”
For the season, the Capitals are averaging 3.9 goals per game, tops in the league. They’ve averaged 2.77 goals against per game, 16th in the NHL. In nine games without Ovechkin, the Caps have outgunned the opposition by a combined 44-25, making for an average of 4.89 goals per game and 2.78 goals against without their captain on the ice.
Clean Sweep – The Caps cleaned up on the Cats this season, winning all six meetings between the two teams. It is the first time since Florida came into the league in 1993-94 that one team took all of the games between the Caps and Cats. The Capitals outscored the Panthers by a combined 32-15 in half a dozen games this season.
Washington was 4-0 in four games without Ovechkin against Florida this season.
Road Kill – Washington won its 21st road game of the season, pushing its record to 21-10-5 with five road contests remaining on the 2009-10 regular season slate.
The Capitals’ single season record for road victories in a campaign is 22, set in 1983-84 and matched in 1992-93 and 1993-94. The Caps have already equaled the single-season franchise standard for road points in a season with 47.
No. 9’s Night – After sitting out Sunday’s 4-3 overtime win in Chicago as a healthy scratch, Morrison had his first three-point night since he totaled a goal and two assists against the Panthers in a Dec. 3 game in Washington.
“I thought this was as good a game as he’s played in an awful long time,” says Boudreau. “He had his legs and he was just driving by guys. You could see them flipping pucks and he was racing for them and winning all the races. He’s a veteran that doesn’t like to sit out. He sees what’s going on and he’s doing everything he can to stay in the lineup.”
Morrison, signed to a one-year deal last summer to fill the void left by Sergei Fedorov’s departure, now has a dozen goals and 39 points with a plus-19 in 68 games. Fedorov had 11 goals and 33 points with a plus-4 in 52 games with Washington last season.
It’s also worth noting that Fedorov was paid $4 million in 2008-09 while Morrison has been a bargain at less than half of that salary ($1.5 million) in 2009-10.
“It felt pretty good tonight,” says Morrison. “I had a good mindset tonight. Don’t think. Just play the game. I’ve been around long enough to know that but sometimes you get caught up. Once you start thinking out there, instead of reacting you get in trouble. So tonight was a game where I told myself, ‘Just go out and play and react.’ The puck was following us a bit tonight.”
O From The D – Five of the six Caps defensemen in the lineup on Tuesday contributed an assist to the cause with Shaone Morrisonn picking up a pair of helpers. Washington blueliners have now combined for 158 points (30 goals, 128 assists) on the season. That exceeds last season’s blueline total of 151 points and is the most by a Washington blueline corps since the 1995-96 Caps defensemen put up 162 points (49 goals, 113 assists).
This season’s totals do not include two goals scored by Tyler Sloan while he was skaing on the wing, but the 1995-96 totals do include whatever points were scored by Ken Klee and Jim Johnson whenever that duo skated on the wing that season.
Big Night – Several Capitals reached noteworthy personal marks tonight:
• Mike Green reached the 70-point plateau for the second straight season, becoming just the 13th blueliner in league history to do so
• Eric Belanger reached 38 points (14 goals, 24 assists), a single-season career high
• Laich achieved single-season career highs in both goals (24) and points (54)
• Alexander Semin reached 70 points for the third time in his career
• Theodore has now won 25 or more games in three straight seasons. He is 15-0-2 in his last 17 appearances.
• John Carlson picked up an assist for the third straight game. He also skated a single-game career high of 19:45 and was plus-1. Carlson is now plus-10 in 14 games this season. He is just plus-3 behind Colorado’s T.J. Galiardi for the league lead among rookies in that department.
And Then There Were Five – With Ovechkin and defenseman Tom Poti (healthy, just resting) watching from above tonight, only five Capitals have played in all eight Washington games since the end of the Olympic break: Backstrom, Laich, Green, Semin and Mike Knuble.
Tertiary Scoring -- Each member of the Caps' third line -- Morrison, Eric Fehr and Jason Chimera -- scored in the game.
Power Surge – The Caps were 2-for-4 on the power play against the Panthers. Washington has had at least one power play goal in each of its last six games and is 9-for-24 (37.5%) with the extra man during that span. The Capitals have clicked on 26.2% of their power play chances this season.
Ailing – Caps center Boyd Gordon left the game after the first period and he did not return. Boudreau says that Gordon’s recurring back ailment flared up again after he was tripped in the first period.
By The Numbers – Belanger won all five of his first-period draws and was 11-for-16 (69%) from the circle on the night … Laich fired a single-game career high of eight shots on goal … Thirteen of Washington’s 18 skaters recorded at least one point on the night … Backstrom led the Capitals with four hits, all of them in the first period … Carlson led the Caps with four blocked shots … Fehr netted the game-winning goal, his third. The Caps have 11 players with at least three game-winners; no Washington player has more than five … Laich notched his 11th power play goal to tie Backstrom and Ovechkin for the team lead. No other team in the NHL has as many as three players with double-digit power-play goals … The Caps are 16-3 against fellow Southeast Division denizens … Washington is 20-6 in games decided by three or more goals … The Caps are 31-7-5 when scoring first … Washington is 6-1-1 in the month of March … Morrison and Backstrom each had 10 points in six games against the Panthers this season to lead the Caps … The Capitals are 37-2-3 when they score more than three goals in a game.