Another Close Shave – There are no easy games in the modern NHL, more than a decade removed from its most recent expansion. But the trends seemed to favor the Caps at the outset of tonight’s Southeast Division tilt against the Florida Panthers.
Washington was playing for the first time since Tuesday after a grueling month of December and all the hype and spectacle of last weekend’s Winter Classic and the conclusion of the accompanying HBO television series.
Florida was playing its second game in as many nights, its third in four nights and its fifth in seven. The Cats also went with backup netminder Scott Clemmensen, he of the 4.00 career GAA vs. Washington coming into Saturday’s contest at Verizon Center.
So of course, the Caps found themselves embroiled in another nail-biter of a contest that was even at 1-1 past the midway mark of the third.
Mike Green’s power play goal gave Washington a 2-1 lead at 13:07 of the third and Alex Ovechkin added what would prove to be a crucial insurance tally – and the eventual game-winner – three minutes later. Semyon Varlamov made 25 stops – including 11 in the third period – to help the Caps to a 3-2 win over the Panthers.
“Just to get the lead in the third period was like a breath of fresh air,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “You come off of a shutout and it seems you’re never going to score and every goal you get is such a difficult goal. You wonder if you’re ever going to score again.”
After suffering a 1-0 shutout loss to the Lightning on Tuesday, the Caps endured a stretch of 96:27 without a goal for the team before Eric Fehr’s second-period goal evened the game at 1-1.
With a goal and an assist on the night, Fehr now has four goals – half his season’s total – and three assists in his last six games.
“He’s getting more confidence,” says Boudreau of Fehr. “He’s a guy that lives in confidence and he’s playing a little bit more. He started scoring a lot of his goals in the middle to latter half of the year last year too, so maybe he’s a naturally slow starter.”
Seven of Washington’s last 10 games have been decided by the thinnest of margins, with the Caps going 6-1-3 to earn 15 of a possible 20 points during that period. The Capitals are now 11-4-6 in one-goal games this season.
Washington’s stingy defense has now surrendered just 16 goals over the team’s last 10 games. The Caps’ goaltending tandem of Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth has stopped 236 of 247 shots over that span for a combined save pct. of .955.
Power Supply – The Caps have now gone 18 straight games without scoring multiple power play goals in a game, and they’re an anemic 8-for-67 (11.9%) with the extra man during that span. But they got a key power play strike at an opportune time tonight.
Sixteen seconds shy of killing off a Florida power play midway through the third period of a tie game, the Caps got their third power play chance of the night when Jay Beagle drew a tripping call on Florida’s Michael Frolik.
Fehr found Green cutting through the slot and threaded a perfect feed to him, and the Caps’ blueliner tucked a backhander behind Clemmensen to put the Caps ahead for the first time.
“When I came off the half-wall, I was originally looking to shoot. One of their defensemen came right out at me and when their defenseman comes out, you know someone else is open. So I saw Greener cutting in. I gave it to him and he made a really nice backhand shot.”
Green also thought Fehr was going to tee one up.
“It was a great pass by Eric,” says Green. “It looked like he was going to shoot there for a second. I thought he was going to shoot, so I cut into the middle to maybe get a rebound or something. He made a great play and I just had to put it into the net.”
Five Spot – For the first time in his NHL career, Varlamov has now started five straight games. The results have been good.
Washington is 4-0-1 in those five contests, and the 22-year-old Russian netminder has yielded two or fewer tallies in each of the games.
Varlamov has stopped 152 of 158 shots in those five starts for a 1.19 GAA and a .981 save pct. during that span.
Get Right Back To Where We Started From – Washington’s 4-1 road win over the Blues on Dec. 1 was its fourth in a row, and it immediately preceded the club’s eight-game winless slide (0-6-2). After the win in St. Louis, the Capitals’ record stood at 18-6-2, its high-water mark for the season.
Washington has now followed its 0-6-2 tailspin with a 6-0-2 run that effectively cancels out its winless streak and returns to Caps to a 24-12-6 mark, a dozen games over what passes for the break-even level in the modern NHL.
Serial Killers – The Caps successfully snuffed all four Florida power plays on the night to run their streak to 27 consecutive kills. The Caps have killed 33 of 34 (97.1%) shorthanded situations over the last nine games.
Washington has now gone 29 straight games (and 40 of 42 this season) without allowing more than one power play goal in a game. That’s the club’s longest such streak since 1997-98 when it killed 145 of 156 (92.9%) over a 36-game stretch without allowing multiple power play strikes in any single game.
Going Green – Green was active and dialed in all over the ice tonight, jumping into the attack and fueling the Caps’ rush with regularity. The result was a power play goal and an assist for his first multiple-point game since Nov. 14 vs. Atlanta. Green led all skaters on both sides with 24:10 in ice time in Saturday’s game.
Only Sixteen – Between Mike Knuble’s second-period power play goal in last Saturday’s Winter Classic in Pittsburgh and Green’s third–period goal tonight on the man-advantage, Fehr was the only Capital to find the back of the net over a span of 149 minutes and seven seconds of hockey. Fehr scored three goals during that stretch.
“We are not having an easy time scoring goals right now,” says Fehr. “We’re trying to get anybody that can chip in at any point in time and we’ve got to find a way to get some greasy wins.”
Same Twenty – For the first time in nearly two months, the Caps dressed the same 20 players for consecutive contests. Since dressing the same 20 in games on Nov. 13-14, the Capitals had gone 23 straight games with at least one lineup change.
By The Numbers – Ovechkin led the way for Washington with six shots on goal … Jason Chimera and Karl Alzner paced the Caps with four hits each … John Carlson blocked three shots to lead the Capitals … David Steckel was stellar in the circle, winning 13 of 17 face-offs (76%) on the night … Green and Scott Hannan led the Caps with 2:51 in shorthanded ice time.
1 - 0 FLA
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 WSH
3 - 1 WSH
3 - 2 WSH
Delaying Game - Puck over glass