Back On Top – Sunday afternoon’s 3-2 overtime win over the Florida Panthers won’t be remembered as the Capitals’ most dominant or convincing of the season, but the two points gained this afternoon in South Florida were key.
Washington’s win lifted it back into the top spot in the Southeast Division, one point in front of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Immediately after Sunday’s win, the Caps headed for Tampa where they’ll take on the Lightning on Monday in a Southeast Division showdown for the top spot in the division.
Sunday’s win over the Panthers also moved the Caps to within four points of front-running Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference standings.
Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth turned in another strong performance, making 32 saves – including 11 while the Panthers were on the power play – to earn his 22nd win of the season, third-most among NHL rookie netminders. Chicago’s Corey Crawford has 26 and Philadelphia’s Sergei Bobrovsky has 24.
Neuvirth has now won four straight starts for the third time this season. The Caps haven’t scored more than three goals in any of those wins, and they’ve supported Neuvirth with a grand total of 16 goals of offensive support in his last nine starts.
“We’re not scoring more than three goals a game," says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. "If we get four, it’s a really good night. I think our team plays like we know we’re not getting a lot of goals, not just [Neuvirth]. We batten down the hatch pretty good.
“Even when they had 16 shots in the first period, I think a lot of them – a good 10 of them – were from the outside and from the blueline with long shots. I think they only had two scoring chances, which is probably more important than the shots.”
For the fifth straight game, the Capitals surrendered the game’s first goal. Ex-Panther Dennis Wideman took a shot at the Florida line, only to have it blocked by Cats’ center Mike Santorelli. The puck squirted into neutral ice, and as Wideman tried to take off in pursuit of Bill Thomas and linemate Michael Repik, the Caps’ defenseman lost his footing and the Panthers were off on a 2-on-1 with another man trailing the play. Repik and Thomas worked the give-and-go, and Thomas finished it with a sharp wrist shot that beat Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth and put the home team on top at 15:03 of the first frame.
Washington needed just over two minutes to issue an answer. Caps winger Alex Ovechkin won a puck battle in the left wing corner and slipped the disc to the front where Nicklas Backstrom was waiting. Backstrom fired a one-timer past Florida goaltender Scott Clemmensen to even the game at 1-1 with 2:44 remaining in the first.
The Caps’ fourth line of Matt Hendricks, Boyd Gordon and Matt Bradley had a feisty and scrappy shift that led to the go-ahead goal when Gordon backhanded home a loose puck off a goalmouth scramble. The tally was Gordon’s second of the season and his first since Dec. 1 at St. Louis.
“It was his best game of the year,” says Boudreau of Gordon’s Sunday performance. “He blocked shots, he won face-offs, he paid the price. That’s why he won the [hardhat] helmet tonight, because he did what it took. Scoring a goal for him is a luxury. That’s a bonus. But everything else he did was great.”
Washington got into some late penalty trouble in the third, putting the Panthers on a lengthy two-man advantage. The Caps lost the defensive zone draw, and were unable to get a stick on any of a series of sharp Florida passes. The Panthers – who entered the game with the league’s least efficient power play outfit – converted on the 5-on-3 when David Booth scored from the top of the paint at 17:24 of the third to even the contest. The Caps killed the remainder of the second minor and the game moved to overtime.
Early in the extra session, Caps winger Alexander Semin scooted down the left side with the puck. He carried over the line, dropped a pass to center Marcus Johansson, and took the puck right back from Johansson before unleashing a one-time slapshot from near the bottom of the circle. The shot beat Clemmensen, and the Caps had their fourth straight win.
Top Heavy – Washington had six shots on goal in the game’s first period, and all six came from the team’s top line. Mike Knuble had three, Backstrom had two and Ovechkin one.
Florida outshot the Capitals 34-25 for the game. The Panthers’ top two lines accounted for the lion’s share of those shots, firing 20 of those 34 Florida shots in Neuvirth’s direction.
The top Washington line of accounted for 15 of the Caps’ 25 shots on net for the game.
While Florida’s second line was involved in putting pucks on the Washington net all night, the Caps’ second unit of Semin, Brooks Laich and Jason Arnott had a tough time getting out of the starting blocks. That threesome combined for just one of the team’s 25 shots on goal for the night, and it came on Semin’s overtime game-winner in the first minute of the extra session.
Slow Starters – Backstrom’s first-period goal was the first for the Capitals in the game’s first frame in their last seven games.
Road Killer – Backstrom has scored 13 of his 17 goals on the road this season. That total is tops on the team for road goals this season, one more than Ovechkin’s dozen.
Power Supply – Washington has now gone 42 straight games – the equivalent of more than half a season – without registering multiple power play goals in a game. The Caps are 14 for 132 on the power play in their last 42 games.
Washington has gone without a power play goal in five straight games. The Caps have had two or fewer power play chances in 19 of those 42 games. They’ve had exactly one power play opportunity in two straight games, and they’ve had two chances or fewer with the man-advantage in four straight and six of their last nine games.
“We were just talking about it in there,” says Boudreau. “Everybody complains about our power play, and rightfully so. It’s not doing that well but it’s really hard to get a consistency or a momentum on it when you’re getting one power play a game.
“I know we deserved some of those penalties, but they deserved some that they didn’t get, either. It happens way too often.”
Bad Boys, Bad Boys – Each of the Caps’ last five minor penalties of the game was committed by a different Washington defenseman. Tyler Sloan (elbowing), John Carlson (cross-checking) and Karl Alzner (tripping) were all sent to the box in the second period.
Late in the third period, Caps defensemen John Erskine (tripping) and Wideman (slashing) were sent to the box 40 seconds apart. Those infractions gave the Cats a two-man advantage for 80 seconds and enabled them to tie the game and come away with a point.
Scott Hannan was the only Caps defenseman who was not whistled for a minor penalty in Sunday’s game.
Two-Man Trouble – Washington has allowed four goals against in 5-on-3 situations this season, and three of them have come against the Panthers, all of them on the road.
Booth has victimized the Caps twice on the two-man advantage and Santorelli once.
Although the Panthers’ power play has been ranked at or near the bottom of the league all season, the Cats are second in the NHL with eight goals scored in 5-on-3 situations.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears suffered a 4-1 Sunday afternoon setback to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at Giant Center on Sunday.
Nolan Schaefer made 22 saves for Hershey and Boyd Kane scored the Bears’ lone goal – his 22nd of the season on a power play in the second period.
The second-place Bears now trail the Baby Pens by eight points in the AHL’s East Division standings.
By The Numbers – Eighteen of the 36 skaters dressed for the game took at least one face-off on the night. Nine players on each side took at least one draw in the game … Caps defenseman John Carlson led all skaters on both sides with exactly 20 minutes in even-strength ice time … Panthers’ defenseman Dmitry Kulikov led all skaters on both sides with a 26:45 workload on the night … Cats center Stephen Weiss led all forwards on both sides with 25:22 in ice time … Caps winger Matt Bradley led all skaters on both sides with five hits … Fifteen of the 18 Washington skaters recorded at least one hit in the game as the Caps outhit the Cats, 29-18 … Gordon led the Capitals with four blocked shots in the game … Booth and Niclas Bergfors led the Panthers with six shots on goal each … The Panthers were charged with a dozen giveaways to Washington’s two in the game. Weiss was charged with five giveaways.
1 - 0 FLA
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 WSH
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 WSH