When I got home last night, I was of a mind that that was about the worst 5-2 win as you're ever going to see, even thought the Caps put up five goals in the first period to end the competitive portion of the game. Despite his fine record coming into the game, Alex Auld put on a clinic on how not to play the position. Between leaving garbage all around his crease to whiffing on shots from near the blue line, it was a grisly night – four goals on only 12 shots.
But, having had the luxury of sleeping on it, it probably wasn’t as bad as I first thought, and these are the Caps – being grateful for a win should be required of fans.
I thought the Caps did three things well -- they capitalized on mistakes (for the first 15 minutes of the game, anyway), they killed 1:31 of a 5-on-3, and they took only four minors (perhaps as much a product of the listlessness of the last 50 minutes as any discipline on the Caps' part).
On the other hand, they fought the puck on their sticks most of the night. Alexander Semin flat out whiffed on several superb chances, never getting the puck to the net. Steve Eminger just didn’t look especially energized. And tonight, I could agree with some other Caps fans that are of a mind that something is amiss with Alexander Ovechkin -- I got the impression that the spirit was willing, but the body didn't have the overdrive gear he usually seems to have to outrace an opponent to the puck or to get position for a scoring chance. He had bursts of his top gear, but that just led me to believe even more than something is up. He picked his spots instead of relying on his usual unrelenting pursuit.
What led me to believe things weren’t as bad as I’d first thought was the experimentation with lines that seemed to characterize the last two periods. Looking over the shift chart, I see a number of odd combinations showing up from time-to-time, including . . . an Ovechkin-Klepis-Brashear line?
The best line of the night was the second line of Semin, Kris Beech, and Richard Zednik – 2-3-5 as a group with a +9 (plus-threes all around). But Olaf Kolzig was the difference here. If he allows a second, or even a third goal in the 5-on-3 in the Panthers had in the second period, I think the Panthers could have caught the Caps flatfooted over the rest of the game. Kolzig didn't have to do much in terms of making highlight saves; his game was that solid. The good thing was, Florida was just pitiful. How that team brought three wins into the building was a mystery to me.
The crowd was especially disappointing, even for a weeknight game. 10,125 announced, but it looked like about two thirds of that in real bodies.
The bottom line? The Caps did what they had to do – jump on a divisional opponent at home and protect the lead they earned. This isn’t a game they would have won last year, in my opinion. And that, friends, is a good thing.
-- The Peerless