Washington managed to pull four points out of its first set of back-to-back games this weekend, doing so without captain and first line right wing Alex Ovechkin. After trouncing the Flyers in Philadelphia on Friday, the Caps managed to finish off the weekend by squeezing two more points out of a less engaging 3-2 shootout win over the Florida Panthers at Verizon Center on Saturday night.
The win over the Panthers wasn’t pretty, but it gives the Caps two wins in succession, two wins in succession on home ice and it moves them to break-even (7-7) on the season.
Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth made 31 saves to earn the win, his first win in a start at Verizon Center since a 4-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on April 7.
“Tonight was an ugly one,” admits Caps center Nicklas Backstrom. “Neuvy played great and kept us in the game.”
Ex-Cap Tomas Fleischmann finished off a tic-tac-toe play by putting the puck into a yawning cage on a Florida 4-on-3 with just 2:38 left in regulation, tying the game at 2-2. Steve Oleksy’s slashing call on Florida forward Scottie Upshall put a halt to a 4-on-4 stretch and enabled the Panthers to draw even and eventually pull a point from the game.
“Too many penalties,” rues Caps coach Adam Oates. “They scored a big goal for themselves there at the end and broke our streak. It’s too bad because we had been on a nice run.”
Fleischmann’s goal ended a run of 35 straight successful penalty-killing missions for the Capitals.
Playing against a Panthers team that lugged a four-game losing streak (0-2-2) into the game after suffering a home ice shutout against St. Louis on Friday night, the Caps went up against journeyman goaltender Scott Clemmensen, a backup with 11 minutes of work on his 2013-14 NHL résumé and a very spotty career history against Washington.
But the Caps were never really able to seriously test Clemmensen. His teammates did a great job of battling and of battening down the hatches in front of him, keeping the Capitals from putting any real sustained pressure on the Panthers’ goalie. By night’s end, the Panthers had launched 66 shot attempts to 50 for the Caps.
“I thought we played great,” says Clemmensen, “especially in this building under these circumstances, I thought our team played great. Me, personally, I felt rusty out there, but the team played very well in front of me so it gave me a chance to get into it.”
For the 14th time in as many games this season, Washington put together a less than enthralling first period. But for the second time in as many nights, the Caps managed to emerge from the first frame with a 1-0 lead.
The Panthers owned a lopsided 27-9 advantage in first period shots on goal, but that disparity was due in large part to Florida having three power play opportunities in the game’s first 20 minutes. Despite going 13:43 without a shot on net at one point, Washington actually edged the Cats 5-4 in even-strength shots on net in the first, and the Caps drew first blood on a goal that resulted from a face-off win at their own blueline in the 17th minute of the frame.
Backstrom won the draw back to left defenseman Nate Schmidt, who hit partner Mike Green in stride exiting the Washington end. Green carried to the red line and passed to Eric Fehr in the middle of the ice. Fehr and Backstrom crossed, with Fehr sweeping at the puck with his backhand, and the disc taking a membership bounce off Panthers forward Jesse Winchester to Backstrom in the slot. The Caps’ center fired home his third goal in two nights to give Washington a 1-0 lead at 16:41.
Making his second start on home ice this season, Michal Neuvirth was strong in the first. He made 11 saves, including seven while the Panthers were on the power play. Washington blocked another five Florida shot attempts while the visitors had the man advantage in the first; the Panthers’ lead in even-strength shot tries was 15-9 in the first period.
Washington was never able to add to its lead, and the Cats were able to solve Neuvirth and even the score midway through the second. Panthers forward Nick Bjugstad picked off a Brooks Laich pass near the Florida line and quickly sprung Cats forward Jesse Winchester on a breakaway. Laich hooked Winchester from behind, but the Panthers’ forward was still able to fire through Neuvirth’s five-hole to make it a 1-1 game at 8:20 of the second.
Oates went with his fourth line of Aaron Volpatti, Michael Latta and Tom Wilson for the ever-important shift after a goal, and his trust in that youthful trio was rewarded. Washington regained the lead just 36 seconds after Winchester’s goal, Latta making a sublime feed to John Carlson to set up the latter’s first goal of the season, putting the Capitals up top 2-1.
“Because of minutes and the [excess of] penalty killing,” explains Oates, “guys were a little tired. You’ve got to be able to trust them and they went out and did a good job and scored a big goal for us, [Latta] with a great pass to Carly.”
Again, the Caps weren’t able to muster much sustained pressure in the attack zone and Washington didn’t get its first power play opportunity until the game’s 40th minute, by which time Florida had already been a man to the good four times.
The Capitals’ power play managed only three shots on net in six minutes of time – including a full two minutes of a 4-on-3 advantage in overtime – while Florida peppered Neuvirth with a dozen power play shots, the last of which tied the game late in the third, also ending a lengthy run of supreme penalty killing work by Washington.
After suffering a 4-0 loss to the Blues at home on Friday – their second lopsided shutout loss to St. Louis this season – the Panthers turned in a hard-working, gritty and plucky effort on Saturday. They gave the Caps all they could handle and might have won it in regulation if not for some nifty work in net from Neuvirth.
“It’s such a difference in the hockey game, the tone, the tempo, the compete level,” notes Panthers’ coach Kevin Dineen. “I keep on using those words like compete and stuff like that, but really what it’s about is possession.
“We want skilled players to have the puck on their stick. That’s when our skilled players are at their best, when they have the puck on their stick and it’s a matter of earning it. Overall, that’s a good snapshot of the potential that we can give. It’s disappointing to not get the [second] point, but we certainly were happy with the effort.”
“They’re actually a pretty difficult team to play against,” says Oates of the Panthers. “Their record is not indicative of how good they play. They skate really well, they’ve got a lot of crafty guys and they take it back and come in waves and you’ve got to be very disciplined. They’re a hard team. They’re a hard team to play.”
Killing Streak Killed – Washington’s remarkable run of 35 straight successful penalty-killing missions came to an end with Fleischmann’s goal. The Caps had gone three weeks and more than eight games without allowing a single power-play goal to the opposition.
With an average of 4:04 per game in shorthanded ice time, Carlson leads the Capitals and is fourth among all NHL defensemen in that category. He has been routinely excellent while Washington has been down a man this season.
“I didn’t know how many it was,” says Carlson after learning the exact number of consecutive kills the Caps had authored. “It’s hard. It’s not easy and it takes a lot of sacrifice from every guy on the ice and especially the goalies. It starts with them, really. They’ve been playing good and giving us big stops when we need them.”
Oleksy lamented the retaliatory call he took on Upshall late in the third that enabled the Cats to draw even on the power play.
“He sold it pretty good,” says Oleksy, “but to even put myself or the team in that situation to give them the chance to call that [is a mistake]. It’s something you’d like to take back, but I’ve got to credit the team for coming back and getting the two points at the end of the day.”
Similar Script – On Saturday against the Cats, the Capitals wrote a similar first-period script as they’d scribed the night before in Philadelphia in a 7-0 spanking of the Flyers.
The Caps were forced to kill a pair of first period penalties on Friday; they killed three in the first on Saturday. They went more than 15 minutes without a shot on net in the first period of Friday’s game and were without a shot for 13:43 of Saturday’s first frame.
Backstrom scored the game’s first goal with help from a linemate and a defenseman at 17:28 of the first on Friday, and he opened the scoring on Saturday with help from a linemate and a defenseman at 16:41 of the first.
Century City – Carlson’s goal was his first of the season and first since that aforementioned April 7 game against the Lightning at Verizon Center. Carlson has 24 goals and 100 points in 248 career NHL games.
Firsts – Latta earned his first NHL minor penalty and his first NHL fighting major at the same time in Saturday’s game. Latta incurred an elbowing call at 16;21 of the first period, and Panthers forward Marcel Goc challenged the Caps’ rookie center to a bout, one that Latta won handily.
In the second period, Latta notched his first NHL point on Carlson’s goal. He picked up the primary assist with a perfect pass.
Hat Trick Of Infractions – Washington’s red hot forward line trio of Jason Chimera, Mikhail Grabovski and Joel Ward was finally cooled off on Saturday. The Panthers held the threesome off the scoresheet, at least as far as scoring was concerned.
Each member of the line took a first-period penalty that enabled the Panthers to put their power play on the ice three times in the first stanza.
Chimera started the parade to the penalty box with a hi-sticking minor at 5:15 and Ward was called for boarding exactly four minutes later. Grabovski went off for hooking to complete the line’s hat trick of first period penalties at 17:25, just after Backstrom’s goal gave the Caps the lead.
Green Means Go – Green picked up a point for the fourth straight game. He now has nine assists in 14 games on the season and is tied for fourth in the league in assists among defensemen.
Down On the Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears finished up a home-and-home set with division rival Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at Giant Center on Saturday night. After falling to the Baby Pens in overtime on the road on Friday night, the Bears
Hershey got off to a strong start, tallying twice in the span of 119 seconds in the middle of the first to jump out to a 2-0 lead. David Kolomatis netted his first of the season at 6:38 of the first with help from Matt Watkins and Garrett Mitchell. Just under two minutes later, Jeff Taffe netted his third of the season with assists from Nathan Walker and Dane Byers. Hershey took that lead to the room after the game’s first 20 minutes.
That was as good as it got for the Bears. The Baby Pens scored three times in the second period, including the go-ahead goal in the final minute of the stanza, and added a shorthanded goal late in the third to sweep the set with a 4-2 win.
David Leggio allowed four goals on 42 shots in the Hershey nets. Nineteen of those saves came in the game’s second period.
Hershey finishes off a busy weekend when it hosts Norfolk on Sunday at Giant Center. The 2-4-2-0 Bears have six points and are tied for 13th place in the AHL’s Eastern Conference standings.
Down a level, the ECHL Reading Royals finished off a four-point weekend with a 5-2 victory over the Elmira Jackals at Sovereign Center on Saturday. Six different players scored for the Royals in Friday’s win at Wheeling, and five players accounted for the team’s five goals on Saturday.
Dustin Gazley, Sean Wiles, Matt Campanale, Domenic Monardo and Aaron Gens scored for Reading to support Riley Gill’s 30-save night in the Royals’ nets.
Reading runs its record to 4-3 on the season, good for first place in the ECHL’s Atlantic Division.
By the Numbers – The win was Washington’s eighth straight over the Panthers and its eighth straight over the Panthers in the District … Carlson, Green and Fehr led the Caps with four shots on net each … Oleksy paced Washington with seven shot blocks.