Rally Caps – For the better part of 55 minutes on Tuesday night against the Panthers in South Florida, it didn’t look like the Washington Capitals’ night. The Caps scored the game’s first goal on a Mike Ribeiro power play early in the first, but soon afterwards got into some penalty trouble and weren’t able to retake the lead that lasted less than six minutes.
Down 2-1 and 3-2, the Caps tied the score both times. But when Florida scored late in the second to take a 4-3 lead and then extended that lead to 5-3 in the third, it looked as though the Caps might again fail to win on the road and fail to put together a modest two-game winning streak.
And then … the team that couldn’t score more than three goals in any of its first 11 games of the season struck for three goals in a span of 5:39 to earn a stunning 6-5 overtime win over the Panthers. Troy Brouwer’s goal at the 32-second mark of the extra session made winners of the Capitals.
“Every win is important,” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “To stay with it for 60 minutes is something we talk about all the time. And we saw it was going to be one of those kinds of nights where the goals were going in, and just to stay with the program and fight through the mistakes and they did it. Good for them, and obviously it’s a good win for us.”
Six different Capitals scored, with the trio of late, clutch tallies coming from Eric Fehr, Alex Ovechkin and Brouwer, respectively.
Fehr got behind the Florida defense with 5:07 left in the third, and he tucked a shot behind Florida goaltender Scott Clemmensen to draw Washington within a goal at 5-4.
Panthers teenaged phenom Jonathan Huberdeau scored two goals for the Cats, but he was also whistled for a crucial slashing penalty with 2:53 left, a call that put the Caps’ surging power-play unit back on the ice.
Four seconds after Huberdeau was seated in the penalty box, Ovechkin fired a shot from the left point past Clemmensen to even the contest at 5-5.
Washington was forced to kill a Mathieu Perreault high-sticking call with 1:45 left in regulation, but it did so without incident for the fifth time on the evening.
That kill set the stage for some overtime heroics from Brouwer and Nicklas Backstrom. Just after the start of overtime, Florida skated the puck into the Washington end. Brouwer pulled the disc from Panthers’ defenseman Dmitry Kulikov and handed it off to Backstom near the Washington line.
Brouwer then circled back to the right side and drove down the right wing wall. Backstrom spotted him, and sent a sublimely sauced feed to Brouwer, threading the puck past a pair of Panthers and onto Brouwer’s tape. The Caps’ right wing did the rest, getting behind the defense, putting a shot on Clemmensen and then diligently burying the rebound before the cavalry could arrive.
“I just dropped it to Nicky,” says Brouwer, “because I’d rather him have the puck than me, and then I took off because in 4-on-4, there’s a little bit of extra room out there. And he made a beautiful pass. It went in on the second chance, but it doesn’t matter. It went in.”
For the second straight game, Washington benefited from strong secondary scoring. Karl Alzner (his first) and Matt Hendricks (his third) also found the back of the net. For Alzner, the goal was his first in 87 games, since Oct. 27, 2011 at Edmonton.
Even with the win, Washington still occupies the cellar of both the Southeast Division and Eastern Conference standings. The Caps have had far better nights in their own end of the ice. But the Capitals hope the confidence gained from their improbable late comeback can have a lasting effect as they continue their bid to dig out of an early season standings sinkhole.
“Obviously we'll take the two points,” says Fehr. “But we’ve got to find a way to keep pucks out of our net and just be a little bit stronger in our own zone. But obviously this is big for us, it’s a momentum swing for us and we feel like we’re back a little bit.”
Tuesday’s win marks the first time the Capitals have allowed five goals in a win since Oct. 10, 2011 when they took a 6-5 shootout decision from the Tampa Bay Lightning in a game at Verizon Center.
“Two points is two points,” says Brouwer. “We’ve had a few games where we’ve given away two points, and now it’s our turn to battle back and get those two very important points.
Clutch Killers – Washington’s penalty-killing corps did yeoman’s work on the night. Just after taking an early 1-0 lead, the Caps took the first of three straight minors. The second of those three was a delay of game (puck over glass) call that came a mere 19 seconds after Tomas Fleischmann had tied it for Florida on a fluke goal that banked in off Caps defenseman John Erskine’s skate.
The Caps have buckled under similar – and even lesser – duress and adversity this season, but on Tuesday the Caps held up quite nicely on the PK.
Florida managed nine power-play shots on net in the 10 minutes in which it enjoyed the man-advantage.
“I thought our penalty-killing was better tonight,” says Oates. “But still you end up using guys and it’s a stressful time, obviously. You want to not have those situations if you can help it.”
Defensemen John Carlson (5:32 in shorthanded ice time), Karl Alzner (4:30) and Erskine (3:45) did the heavy lifting while the Caps were shorthanded along with forwards Jay Beagle (3:27), Joel Ward (3:22), Matt Hendricks (3:06) and Joey Crabb (3:05).
In addition to the three successive penalties in the first period and the Perreault minor late, Washington killed off a slashing minor to Hendricks in the middle of the third; a Florida goal at that juncture would have given the Cats a three-goal lead.
“Our PK was outstanding,” says Caps goalie Braden Holtby. “That’s something we’ve been working on all year. Those guys take a lot of pride in it, the main guys of the PK. It’s good to see that it’s coming around. Those guys work extremely hard. That’s what’s going to be our backbone in the rest of the season.”
Multiple Men – Five different Caps registered multiple points in Tuesday’s win, and for the second straight game, Washington had 10 different players etch their names onto the scoresheet.
Ribeiro led the way with three points (one goal, two assists). Ovechkin and Fehr each had a goal and an assist, and Backstrom and Joel Ward both contributed a pair of assists to the cause.
New Killer – Prior to Tuesday night’s tilt in South Florida, Fehr had played a total of 274 NHL games. In those 274 games, he had skated a grand total of one minute and 37 seconds worth of shorthanded ice time, and that modest total had been accumulated despite four seasons in which he never touched the ice whatsoever when his team was shorthanded.
On Tuesday against the Panthers, Fehr was on the Caps’ penalty-killing unit, on purpose, and with purpose. He skated 1:14 while Washington was shorthanded, more than he had skated in any previous season in its entirety.
“I’ve been practicing a little bit and I’ve been getting ready for it,” says Fehr of his first real NHL penalty killing duty. “I got my chance tonight. It was a pretty big time for the team, so I was pretty excited and we got the job done.”
Special Delivery – Washington’s special team play was instrumental in its 6-5 comeback win on Tuesday. The Caps scored two power-play goals in three attempts and successfully snuffed all five Florida power play opportunities.
One underlying reason for Washington’s special teams success on Tuesday was its excellent work on the face-off dot during times of unequal manpower. The Capitals won 11 of 12 (92%) of their shorthanded face-offs and they took all four of their power-play draws.
Ovechkin’s game-tying power-play goal came as the direct result of a face-off win immediately after a Florida penalty and the ensuing face-off in the Panthers’ end.
Three of the game’s 11 goals came as a direct result of face-off wins, including Alzner’s first of the season at 5:33 of the second period, an even-strength tally.
Power Surge – Washington has now notched a power-play goal in each of its last five games. The last time the Caps went as many as five straight games with at least one power-play goal was early last season, in the midst of the team’s seven-game winning streak at the outset of the 2011-12 campaign.
Washington netted at least one extra-man tally in each game from Oct. 13-22, 2011. The Caps were 5-for-15 (33.3%) on the power play during that span.
Power Pivot – Ribeiro continues to produce at a prolific pace, particularly on the power play. Ribeiro scored his fifth goal of the season at 4:26 of the first, his fourth power-play goal of the season.
He also added a power-play assist on Ovechkin’s goal and has now had a hand in 10 of Washington’s 12 extra-man strikes on the season.
Ribeiro had two power-play goals with Dallas in 2011-12 and he is now halfway to matching his single-season career high of eight, established in 2005-06 with Montreal and matched in 2009-10 with Dallas.
With 10 power-play points (four goals, six assists) on the season, Ribeiro is tied for the league lead. He is also two-thirds of the way to matching his team-leading power-play points total from last season.
Heating Up – The Caps weren’t scoring many goals early in the season, but they’ve got a few players who have started to heat up a bit offensively over the last handful of games.
Backstrom now has a goal and eight points in his last eight games. Brouwer has four goals and six points in his last six games. Fehr has a goal and three points in his last two games. Tomas Kundratek has three assists in his last four games. Ovechkin has four goals and eight points in his last seven games. Ribeiro has four goals and nine points in his last five games. Ward has a goal and four points in his last two games.
Firsts – In each of its three previous road games, Washington scored the game’s first goal but came away with nothing in the points department. Tonight, the Caps struck first and went on to finish the deal. They are now 2-4 in games in which they score the first goal this season.
Kid Stuff – Florida’s Drew Shore scored his first NHL goal at 6:25 of the third period. Shore is the third player to net his first NHL goal against Washington this season. He follows Tampa Bay’s Cory Conacher and Toronto’s Korbinian Holzer in achieving that milestone against the Capitals.
A Matter Of Time – The Caps have generally had success against Clemmensen over the course of the journeyman goaltender’s career, it’s just a matter of getting pucks and shots on him.
Washington has gone on to score four or more goals in the game in eight of Clemmensen’s last 11 starts against the Caps, although Clemmensen actually won two of those contests.
During his career against the Caps, Clemmensen is now 4-7-2 with a 3.82 GAA and an .862 save pct. in 18 appearances (14 starts).
By The Numbers – The Caps are now tied for fourth in the NHL in power play prowess (25.5%) … For the 13th time in as many games, Mike Green paced the Caps in ice time with 27:31. He is averaging 26:37 per game this season, sixth most in the NHL … Brouwer paced the Caps with five shots on net … Brouwer and Hendricks led the Caps with five hits each … Erskine led the Caps with three blocked shots … Backstrom took 29 of the game’s 68 draws, winning 19 (66%) … Beagle won six of seven draws (86%).