60-Minute Men – For the better part of three weeks, the Washington Capitals have talked of being resilient, putting strings of good shifts together, paying attention to the details of the game and in general, giving themselves a good chance to win hockey games.
A day after an air-clearing, players-only meeting, the Caps put together their best, most convincing and most dominant performance of the season, putting a 5-0 pummeling on the Florida Panthers on Saturday night at Verizon Center.
The Caps hope Saturday’s win can be a confidence-builder for them.
“A lot of confidence as a group going forward,” says Caps right wing Troy Brouwer, who paced the attack with a pair of goals. “knowing that we need to stick together. Tonight I think was easy to say it was our most complete game all season, and maybe since I’ve been here.”
The Caps were buzzing from the opening face-off, and they had three shots on net in the first minute of the contest. Once the dust from that swift start settled, there were a couple of early junctures at which the Caps might have met the peril that has dogged them in the early weeks of this season, but they were able to straight-arm the Panthers at every turn.
The Caps were whistled for the game’s first minor penalty, an interference call on Jason Chimera at 6:32 of the first, with the game still scoreless. Washington killed it, allowing just one Florida shot on goal during the two-minute penalty.
Just after the Caps successfully killed off the Florida power play, the Panthers tore off on a 2-on-1 rush that came about when the Caps turned the puck over deep in the attack zone.
Florida’s Kris Versteeg drove down the right side with the puck. He fired a wrist shot short side, and Caps goalie Braden Holtby snared it with his glove hand the keep the game scoreless.
Shortly after that stop, the Panthers had Holtby out of his crease, but were unable to work the puck around to the front of the net for a strong scoring chance. Holtby made a few strong stops when the game was still in doubt, until the Caps’ offense could get on track.
“The type of shots they were,” says Holtby, “they were ones that I know are in my capability to stop. “The traffic in front of the net tonight was non-existent today. Our [defense] and our forwards really took it to heart this last little while that we need to bear down on our end and it was outstanding tonight. We’re going to need that to keep moving forward.”
Meanwhile, the Caps strung together a series of strong shifts, led by the newly cobbled trio of Eric Fehr, Mathieu Perreault and Joel Ward. Three of the four Washington lines contributed on the scoresheet, and all four lines played hard even when the game was no longer in question.
The Perreault line was a constant thorn in the Panthers’ side, forechecking tenaciously and working the walls in the attack zone with a tireless cycle game.
“That was a key I think,” says Ward, “to put pressure on them and hem them in a little bit. They kind of looked a little flat-footed at times and I thought we put some pretty good pressure on them.”
That trio’s good work did not go unnoticed by their teammates.
“The line of Fehr and Matty P.,” begins Holtby, “they hadn’t played a lot lately and they were absolutely outstanding. The energy they created, we were in their end the whole time they were on the ice. When you see that, you see guys play with that passion, it’s contagious through the rest of your team.”
“Matty P. and Ward and Fehrsie had an unbelievable night tonight,” says Brouwer. “Matty was itching to get back in the lineup and he made the best of it. Those guys worked unbelievably hard. They were the guys who kept those [offensive zone] shifts going and started them in a lot of senses.”
The Washington win ended a three-game losing streak, and gave the Caps a lot to feel good about, an all-too-rare feeling for them thus far this season.
“[There were] obviously a lot of positives,” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “We were just talking, was the five goals or the shutout more important? Kind of both.”
The shutout was the fourth of Holtby’s NHL career. He made 27 saves on the night.
“Great for Braden,” says Oates. “He made the big save early for us when we needed it on the 2-on-1. After that, we didn’t give them much and we scored some goals.”
Leading Men – When Ward netted his fifth goal of the season – one shy of his total from 2011-12 – at 11:55 of the second, the Capitals finally had their first three-goal lead of the season.
They added two more tallies in the third to widen the gap.
Spotless Second – After being outscored by a combined 9-1 in the second period of their previous three games – all losses – the Caps held Florida scoreless in the middle frame of Saturday night’s game. It was just the third time in a dozen games this season that Washington did not surrender a goal in the second period.
Moreover, the Caps scored two goals of their own in the middle frame of Saturday’s game. It’s just the second time this season that Washington netted two goals in the second period of a game and the first time it had done so since opening night against the Lightning in Tampa on Jan. 19.
Back In The Saddle – Caps defenseman John Erskine returned to action on Saturday against Florida after serving a three-game NHL-mandated suspension for an elbow to the head of Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds in a Feb. 1 game at Verizon Center.
Erskine made his presence felt right away, getting into a scrap with veteran Florida heavyweight George Parros just 5:44 into the first period.
Perreault was back in the lineup after a five-game exile as a healthy scratch, and he took advantage of his 12:40 in ice time to notch his first points of the season with a goal and an assist.
Remember Me? – Parros’ first NHL fight came in his first NHL game, back on Oct. 5, 2005, the first game after the lockout that killed the 2004-05 season. Playing with the Los Angeles Kings at the time, Parros fought a Dallas defenseman named … John Erskine.
Fifteen days later, Parros and Erskine fought again in Dallas. That was Parros’ fourth NHL fight.
Tonight Parros engaged in the 143rd regular season fight of his NHL career and his first against Erskine in more than seven years, since that Oct. 20, 2005 fight.
Firsts – Perreault scored his first goal of the season. Fehr, Perreault, Holtby and Jeff Schultz each recorded their first points and assists of the season.
Ovechkin’s third-period goal was his first even-strength tally of the season.
Holtby’s Helping Hands – Holtby’s helper was a thing of beauty, a tape-to-tape laser from the crease to Brouwer at the far blueline as the Panthers were trying to make a line change in the middle of a Washington power play.
Holtby’s assist was the second of his NHL career and his first since March 15, 2011 against the Canadiens in Montreal.
“It gave an opportunity for me to make a play there, and obviously Brouw’s shot there was incredible,” says Holtby. “It’s kind of funny, because I thought this was my worst game playing the puck throughout the year. It kind of hides that fact, I guess.”
Holtby’s first NHL helper also came on a power-play goal; it was the secondary assist (Dennis Wideman had the primary) on a Marcus Johansson power-play strike at 1:06 of the first period in a game the Caps went on to win by a 4-2 score at Bell Centre.
Holtby now has six assists as a pro. He notched one with the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays and three during his days with the Hershey Bears. Holtby had seven assists during his junior hockey days with the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades, including a single-season career high of four in 2007-08.
Four Score – Tonight’s five-goal outburst marked the first time in a dozen games this season that Washington scored more than three goals in a game.
The last time the Caps went as many as 11 games without scoring more than three goals was from Dec. 23, 2010 to Jan. 20, 2011 when they went 12 straight games without tallying as many as four times. Washington was 6-2-4 during that 12-game run, largely because it allowed only 27 goals in those 12 games and because it killed off 45 of 49 shorthanded situations (91.8%).
No Way Jose – The Caps denied Theodore in his bid for his first win over Washington since Jan. 4, 2004 and his first win as a visiting goaltender at Verizon Center since Jan. 23, 2002.
Theodore is now 0-4 with a 3.29 GAA and an .874 save pct. in his last five appearances against Washington dating back to his last win against them on Jan. 4, 2004 in Montreal. In his last four starts as a visitor dating back to his Jan. 23, 2002 triumph over the Capitals, Theodore is 0-4 with a 3.98 GAA and an .824 save pct.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears got a pair of power-play goals and a 23-save performance from goaltender Philipp Grubauer to take a 4-3 win over the Binghamton Senators at Giant Center on Saturday night.
Boyd Kane and Jon DiSalvatore scored on the power play and Cameron Schilling and Jeff Taffe added even-strength strikes.
Grubauer is now 4-3-2 on the season for Hershey.
At 23-19-3-2 on the season, the Bears are seventh in the AHL’s Eastern Conference standings. The Bears host Norfolk on Sunday at 5 p.m. at Giant Center.
Down a level, the ECHL Reading Royals blanked the Wheeling Nailers in Wheeling on Saturday by a 3-0 count.
Stanislav Galiev, Yannick Tifu and Nikita Kashirsky supplied the offense to support Brandon Anderson’s 19-save effort in the Reading nets. Anderson’s second shutout of the season runs his record to 7-4-0-1.
The Royals head back home on Sunday to take on Kalamazoo at Sovereign Center at 4 p.m.
By The Numbers – For the 12th time in as many games,, Mike Green paced the Caps in ice time at 24:11 … Ten different Capitals recorded at least one point … Ovechkin led the Caps with five shots on net … Karl Alzner and John Carlson led the way with three blocked shots each … Erik Gudbranson led the Panthers with five hits; he was also the only Florida player with a minus-3 next to his name … Mike Weaver led the Panthers with four blocked shots.