Twenty games over .500.
That is where the Caps now find themselves after a 4-2 win over the Florida Panthers left them with a record of 36-16-5. It is the first time the Caps have been this far above the .500 mark since finishing the 1985-1986 season 27 games over .500 (50-23-7).
Tonight, they did it by seeing one streak end, another continue, and one perhaps get started.
The streak that ended was the consecutive goals-scored game streak by Mike Green. The defenseman was held off the score sheet, despite six shot attempts (four on goal). Green did contribute three blocked shots, a takeaway, and finished plus-1 for the night.
The streak that continued was that of Eric Fehr, who notched a goal in his fourth straight game. He’s scored goals in six of his last seven contests and has points in seven of his last eight. Not bad, considering he played barely ten minutes (10:05, actually).
And the streak that is perhaps starting belongs to Alex Ovechkin, who netted a hat trick and has four goals in his last two games. Ovechkin netted the first goal to give the Caps an early lead, then scored the game-winner with 2:31 left before completing the hat trick with a 150-foot backhand off the post and into an empty net.
It was a nice win on a lot of levels. The dads got to see their boys get another win to complete the Florida trip, the Caps shoved a pin into the balloon of the Panthers’ recent rise in the standings, Washington extended their division lead to 13 points (they have never finished a season with a wider divisional lead), the Caps won a hard-fought game against a defensive-minded opponent, and they won the back half of back-to-back games.
That last point merits a closer look. So far this year, the Caps have played in ten back-to-back games before the games this weekend. They swept only two of them, but in neither instance were both games on the road. The win this afternoon gave the Caps their first road-road sweep of a back-to-back for the season. It is also the second straight sweep of back-to-backs, the last one coming when the Caps defeated Detroit and Ottawa on January 31st and February 1st (both games at home).
As for this game…
-- Nicklas Backstrom has put together a really strong, if quiet run. He had two assists in this game, which makes him 1-11-12, +6 in his last eight games (we’ll shut up about the faceoffs).
-- On those four goals in four consecutive games for Eric Fehr… Tomas Fleischmann has assisted on all of them. This afternoon was the only time, though, when the assist earned by Fleischmann was not a primary assist.
-- Did Ovechkin changes sticks overnight? Against Tampa… eight missed shots. Against Florida… none.
-- Holding the Panthers to 1-of-8 on the power play…good. Giving up eight power plays…bad. Two delay-of-game penalties for shooting the puck over the glass…yeesh.
-- The mark of a formidable team is that the other team knows what’s coming and can’t stop it. Sometimes, that is Mike Green pinching down the right side to get a cross-ice feed and deposit it over the shoulder of the goalie. And tonight – as it is a lot of nights – it’s Ovechkin skating down the left side, using the defenseman as a screen, and either firing the puck just past his leg or through his legs past a goaltender who can’t track the puck. That Ovechkin did it this afternoon against Jay Bouwmeester made it even more impressive.
-- Jeff Schultz was plus-1. Doesn’t sound like a lot, but Schultz hasn’t had a minus game in more than a month (January 13th). He’s only had two since Thanksgiving. He’s plus-15 in 13 games since that minus effort against Edmonton last month.
-- The Caps were charged with only two giveaways in this game. One might attribute that to odd scoring customs in this part of the world, but the Panthers were docked with ten. The Caps played pretty well in terms of protecting the puck (when they weren’t shooting it off the rink).
-- Florida’s offense might be characterized in this one as a lot of heat, and no light. Only two skaters failed to register a shot on goal (Karlis Skrastins and Jassen Cullimore). And two goals to show for it…kudos to the team defense for the Caps for playing a sturdy game.
-- It isn’t often that the Caps get out-chanced, what with all the firepower they bring. Put it is evidence of the Panthers defensive abilities that they out-attempted the Caps 54-53 in shots -- the Caps had 66 attempts last night. The Caps had only two shots on goal on the power play (of course, getting only two power plays will have that result often times).
The Caps have two more back-to-backs, and three Southeast teams will be involved. On February 28th/March 1st they play at Boston and against Florida. Then, on March 16th/17th they play at Florida and at Tampa Bay. But for now, the Caps now return home for a five-game home stand. They play nine of their next ten at home. That’s where they can drive home the last nail into the coffin of the Southeast Division race.
But this weekend was a good one – another step on the way of their learning how to win catching up with their skill. Great job, boys.