Unable to capitalize on a good first five minutes on Friday night against the Panthers in Florida, the Washington Capitals instead spent much of the rest of the night chasing the puck and the Cats. In the end, the Caps were fortunate to have pulled a single point as their modest three-game winning streak came to a halt with a 3-2 shootout setback to the Panthers.
“It felt like one of those March Madness games that kind of runs back and forth,” says Caps right wing Joel Ward. “I think we just got pinned in their zone a little bit. We had our chances of pinning them in their zone, and we just couldn’t break out fluently at times and it gave them momentum for sure. We tried to get that momentum back at some opportunities. It definitely wasn’t the greatest game for ourselves in our own end and we were fortunate to get a point.”
“It was the worst we’ve played in our own end for a long time,” notes Caps coach Adam Oates.
Washington got off to a promising start in Friday’s game. Mike Green put the puck behind Panthers goaltender Scott Clemmensen on the first shift of the game in the first minute of the contest, but the on-ice officials ruled that Martin Erat impeded Clemmensen’s ability to make a stop and the goal was disallowed.
On the next shift, Caps forward Marcus Johansson fired an Alex Ovechkin feed off the goalpost. Minutes later, it appeared as though Washington center Nicklas Backstrom had squeezed a shot through Clemmensen – the red light behind the Panthers’ net went on – but a quick whistle intervened to keep the game scoreless.
Owning all of the game’s early momentum, Washington got its first power play of the game at 4:30 and had yet another chance to grab an early lead. But the Caps’ extra-man unit didn’t have much oomph; Green accounted for the lone Washington shot attempt during that two-minute span, a point shot that Clemmensen turned aside with a single second remaining on the Capitals’ power play.
Even when it doesn’t score, a good power play can gain momentum for a team. Washington’s did not do so in that case, but Florida’s soon would.
Less than three minutes after Washington’s stagnant power play concluded, the Caps headed to the kill themselves. Defenseman John Carlson got tangled up with Panthers’ forward Tomas Kopecky in a battle for the puck behind the Washington net, and as the latter hooked the former, the former hi-sticked the latter. Even worse for Washington, Carlson’s stick sliced Kopecky.
As that noted hockey analyst Curly Howard might have said, Carlson was “a victim of circumstance.” Without the hook, there’s probably no hi-stick. The hook was ignored, and Carlson – the Caps’ go-to penalty-killing defenseman and the second-most frequently deployed penalty-killing defenseman in the league – was ushered to the box to serve a four-minute sentence.
The Panthers did not score, but Florida’s power play wrested momentum of the game from the Caps, who would spend most of the night trying to regain it.
Florida finished off the first with 19 shot attempts to just a single one for Washington over the final 13:31 of the first frame, with the Panthers’ four-minute extra-man session coming in the middle of that stretch.
The first intermission did nothing to cool the Cats. The Capitals chased the elusive Panthers around the Washington end of the ice for the first 133 seconds of the second period, finally scoring to take a 1-0 lead at the 2:13 mark.
Florida defenseman Dylan Olsen cruised in from his left point position and made a smart pinch, taking the puck and firing a wrist shot high over the right shoulder of Caps goalie Philipp Grubauer. The shot came from a sharp angle and went high to the short side over Grubauer’s right shoulder; Olsen was below and to the far side of the left dot when he launched the puck.
With 39 saves on the night, Grubauer played another strong game in the Washington goal, but he took personal responsibility for the Olsen tally after the game.
“The first one was my [mistake],” says Grubauer. “The shot was from outside. It was a great shot, but I should have had that one.”
The Caps infrequent forays into the attack zone were one and done affairs; they were never able to sustain any offensive zone presence or to get a cycle or forecheck working. In the process, they failed to adequately test a journeyman goaltender who looked extremely vulnerable in the game’s early minutes and who entered the game with a poor career track record against Washington.
With four minutes left in the second period, Florida held a commanding 48-19 lead in shots attempted, a discrepancy that was fully indicative of Washington’s lack of puck possession and its inability to sustain any presence – let alone pressure – in the Panthers’ end.
“If they’re all over us, that’s one thing,” says Oates, “but if we have the puck and we miss a pass and we’re putting it in guys’ feet, then we’re giving them second chances. To me, it was too much of that. We shot ourselves on the foot. And because of that, [the Panthers] get [offensive] zone time and we’re tired. Then they move it around and now it’s a long change in the second period and it’s difficult.”
The Caps didn’t appear to have much life at that stage of the night’s proceedings but the Panthers – and specifically Cats’ defenseman Erik Gudbranson – were about to give them some.
Gudbranson took an inexplicable run at Caps forward Eric Fehr in the neutral zone at the 16:16 mark of the period, launching himself at the Washington winger and delivering a hit to Fehr’s head.
Caps forward Troy Brouwer went after Gudbranson at that point, dropping the gloves and taking the Cats defenseman to task for what the Capitals perceived as a dirty hit.
When all the dust had settled, Gudbranson was given a match penalty and five minutes for fighting. Brouwer was given an instigator penalty – even though Gudbranson’s gloves came off at least simultaneously – and a 10-minute misconduct in addition to a major for fighting.
“A hit like that isn’t going to go without a response on this team,” declares Brouwer. “We’ve got too much pride and we respect the fellow players on our team too much. We want to let other teams know that you may not have to fight the toughest guy in the world, but you are going to have to step up if you make a [dirty] hit.
“For me, I went in and didn’t try to drop my gloves right away. I let it be known that I was interested in trying to fight him, but to not try and get an instigator [minor].”
In the immediate aftermath of the rough stuff, the two teams played two minutes with four skaters on each side and then the Caps had three minutes worth of all-you-can-eat power play time.
Clearly charged up by Gudbranson’s hit on Fehr, the Caps wasted no time in knotting the score.
From behind the Florida net, Backstrom made a sublime pass through a maze of bodies, threading the needle to get Carlson a great look from in tight. Clemmensen was forced to make a strong save, but Caps center Mikhail Grabovski retrieved the puck and made another terrific pass, this one to Backstrom in the slot. As three Panthers converged on him, Backstrom ripped a wrist shot high over Clemmensen’s left shoulder to even the game at 1-1. This took place a mere 18 seconds after Gudbranson’s game-altering hit.
As has been the case far too often for the Capitals this season, Washington got a little too sloppy within a two-minute span after scoring a goal and ended up permitting a goal against soon afterwards.
Green’s indirect pass attempt out of his own end never made it out of the Washington zone. Instead, Panthers rookie Aleksander Barkov picked it off. Barkov then carved his way right to the slot, fired and scored. His fifth goal of the season was also a four-on-four goal that came just 82 seconds after Backstrom had tied the game.
Down a goal once again, the Caps had three minutes worth of power play time that bridged the end of the second and the beginning of the third. Washington’s Joel Ward scored on a goalmouth scramble – a goal that wasn’t put on the board until a video review confirmed its legitimacy some 20 seconds after the fact – with less than half a minute left in the second period. The two teams headed into the third knotted at 2-2.
Washington was unable to get anything going with 1:16 of power play time to start the third; Carlson had a shot from the right point but it was the Caps’ only shot try during that stretch with the extra-man opportunity.
The Caps played better in the third, but neither team was able to get the go-ahead goal and overtime solved nothing, either. A 10-round shootout went the Panthers’ way, mercifully ending a less than scintillating game and casting the extra standings point to the Panthers.
“We’re not happy with this game at all,” says Backstrom. “We’ll try to look at what we did right and then look forward to the next game on Sunday. We have to play better because it’s not good enough.”
Fehr None The Worse For Wear – Fehr left the ice after the Gudbranson hit and underwent testing by the Washington training staff. Fortunately for all concerned, passed those measures and was able to return to the game in the third period.
“That was a close call definitely,” says Fehr. “It definitely stung me. I think I dodged a bullet there.”
Asked whether he believed Gudbranson’s elbow made contact with his head, Fehr wasn’t sure.
“I felt something pretty sturdy,” says Fehr.
Point Taken – The Caps pulled at least a point on the road for the fifth consecutive game (3-0-2). Since dropping the last two games of a four-game trip through western Canada at the end of October, Washington is 4-1-3 in its last eight road contests.
Upwards For Orlov – Caps defenseman Dmitry Orlov played in just his sixth game of the season on Friday, one more than he played in an injury-marred 2012-13 season. He skated 13:41 on Nov. 30 against the Islanders in his 2013-14 season debut, and has seen a steady uptick in his workload since.
On Friday against the Panthers, Orlov played 20:04. He eclipsed the 20-minute plateau for the first time in 23 games, since logging a single-game career high 24:31 in a March 8, 2012 tilt against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
More importantly, Orlov looked strong at both ends of the ice on Friday. In a single shift late in the third period of what was a 2-2 game, Orlov made two excellent plays in his own end to diffuse potential Grade A scoring chances for the Panthers. He was also much more assertive with the puck, and had a great look at the net late in overtime.
Asked whether he believed Friday’s performance was Orlov’s best of the season, Oates’ answer could probably be termed a “yes with an asterisk.”
“Yes, I think so,” replies Oates. “But we saw the offense. We’ve seen those plays he made in overtime. And I’ve talked to him all along; I know that. You’ve got to do the job in our end. We’ve got to continually work in our end to get the puck out. It’s too much work and we’ve got nothing left in the tank at the other end [of the ice].”
Sawbuck – Ward’s goal was his 10th of the season. He has reached the double-digit level in goals for the fourth time in his NHL career and the first time since 2010-11 when he was a member of the Nashville Predators.
Only Ovechkin (26) has more goals than Ward among all Caps skaters.
Forty – Friday’s game marked the seventh time in 32 games this season that the Caps have surrendered 40 or more shots on goal in a game. That’s one more 40-shot game than Caps netminders endured in last season’s lockout-abbreviated 48-game campaign.
When the Caps last played a full 82-game schedule in 2011-12, they had just eight games in which the opposition mustered as many as 40 shots on goal.
Double Trouble, Again – Carlson’s hi-sticking double minor in the first period of a scoreless game was the second of its kind that the Capitals faced in as many games.
Green took a double minor for hi-sticking early in the first period of the Caps’ 6-5 shootout win over the Lightning on Tuesday. The Caps surrendered a power play goal to the Bolts just a dozen seconds after Green was seated in the penalty box in that game.
Failure To Launch – Clemmensen started the first meeting between the Caps and the Panthers on Nov. 2 at Verizon Center. That game also ended up 3-2 in a shootout, but with Washington prevailing.
The Caps also didn’t test Clemmensen very much that night; the Panthers held a 66-50 advantage in shot attempts in the game and had 15 unanswered shot tries at one point in the first period.
Entering Friday night’s game against the Capitals, Clemmensen owned a 4-7-3 career mark against the Caps, with a 3.77 GAA and an anemic .861 save pct.
“We didn’t test him as much as we would like, I would say,” says Backstrom. “But overall I think our effort was not good enough. We should just look forward to next game and try to do a better job.”
The Panthers waived Clemmensen at the end of their training camp in early October. After he went unclaimed, he was assigned to San Antonio of the AHL. Recalled when veteran Tim Thomas went down with injury for the first of three times this season, Clemmensen has had two stints in San Antonio this season and has seen sporadic NHL duty. Friday’s game marked his fourth start of the season, and his first win in his last nine appearances, since last April 7.
“At the beginning of the game,” relates Brouwer, “we had one go behind [Clemmensen] and it got waved off. The next puck that we shot kind of trickled through and was behind him. It’s times like those where you’ve got to realize that you throw anything to the net.
“He looked kind of shaky at the beginning of the game. I think by us not getting very many pucks [on him] right away after that, it let him settle in and get a little more confident. We needed to put more pucks to the net early on in the game to see if he was going to be rattled or if we could squeak an ugly one in.”
Solid Addition – Olsen came to Florida in a November trade with the Chicago Blackhawks, joining the Panthers along with forward Jimmy Hayes in a swap that sent ex-Hawk Kris Versteeg back to Chicago for a second stint in the Windy City.
The rookie defenseman has wasted no time in making his presence felt with the Cats. His goal tonight against the Capitals gives Olsen a five-game scoring streak, the longest of his young NHL career. Olsen has three goals and three assists during the life of his streak.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – As many of you already know, your faithful Dump ‘n Chase chronicler finds the shootout to be a horrid way to determine a “winner” after 65 minutes of actual hockey played by two entire teams, and finds the entire charade even more puzzling with the NHL now deeming shootout wins to be not as valuable as those gained in regulation and overtime.
Nevertheless, the skills competition is obviously here to stay. And tonight, your faithful Dump ‘n Chase puck reporter found what he considers to be the very first glimmer of a redeeming element of said skills competition, and an environmental one at that.
During Friday’s seemingly interminable shootout between the Caps and Panthers, the game operations crew at BB&T Center played snippets of the late, great and prolific Ennio Morricone’s title score to the classic 1966 Sergio Leone spaghetti western film, “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.”
It’s also the name of one of the more interesting games of dealer’s choice poker my card-playing buddies and I occasionally play.
Although I couldn’t bear to watch even a mediocre hockey game sullied by the injustice of another shootout – the Caps’ 10th in just 32 games this season – I was sufficiently amused/uplifted by the Cats’ crew’s choice of Morricone’s master work. It helped me to endure the postgame travesty of yet another skills competition, much in the same fashion that a Bose-delivered dose of a mix of The Replacements’ best work might aid me through a root canal, for example.
Ah, the shootout. It's good (for the team that wins). It's bad (for the team that doesn't). It's ugly.
Kudos to Mr. Morricone and to the men and women behind the curtain at the BB&T. It's appropriate.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears were on the road on Friday night, visiting the Baby Pens in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The Bears spotted their hosts the game’s first three goals – all of them on the power play in the first period – and it proved to be too much to overcome. Hershey absorbed a 5-3 loss to the Pens.
Second-period goals from Ryan Stoa and Nicolas Deschamps enabled the Bears to pull within a goal, but the Bears were never able to pull even. Deschamps added a shorthanded goal in the third period, but it wasn’t enough.
Deschamps also had an assist and was a plus-3 on the night. Bears goalie David Leggio was dented for five goals on just 20 shots in the contest.
The 9-9-2-3 Bears currently occupy 11th place in the AHL’s Eastern Conference standings.
Hershey returns home to host the Binghamton Senators on Saturday night at Giant Center. Caps goaltender Michal Neuvirth, assigned to the Bears for a conditioning stint on Thursday, is expected to start against the Baby Sens on Saturday.
Neuvirth, who is recovering from a lower body injury sustained on Nov. 29 when he stepped on a puck during warm-ups prior to a scheduled start against the Montreal Canadiens, will be making his first appearance for Hershey since he helped lead the Bears to consecutive Calder Cup championships in 2009 and 2010.
Down a level, the ECHL Reading Royals hosted the Reading Royals at Santander Arena on Friday night. The Royals found themselves on the short end of a 4-1 score at night’s end.
Dustin Gazley supplied Reading’s only goal, and Riley Gill made 39 saves for the Royals in a losing effort.
The 10-8-1-0 Royals are in second place in the three-team Atlantic Division, eight points in arrears of the front-running Wheeling Nailers.
By The Numbers – The Capitals were outshot 37-20 at even strength … Ovechkin was limited to two shots on net, matching his single-game low for the season … Ovechkin skated 24:51 on the night, the most ice time he has had this season and his highest ice time figure since March 30 at Buffalo (25:57) … Green led the Capitals with five shots on goal … Twelve of Washington’s 25 shots on goal for the game and 25 of its 45 shot attempts came from the team’s blueliners … Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell led all skaters on both sides with 33:17 in ice time … Cats blueliner Tom Gilbert was the only Florida skater who did not have a shot on net during the game.