Sunday, March 06, 2011

A TWO-point night -- Game 66: Caps 3 - Panthers 2 (OT)

Pretty? No. But no one gets extra points for being pretty. Two is what a team gets for a win in the NHL, and two is what the Washington Capitals earned with a 3-2 overtime win over the Florida Panthers. And for the first time since December 29th, the Caps reside at the top of the Southeast Division.

This one did not come easy. And in fact, it was quite an odd game. For a contest that would feature 15 shots on goal for the Caps’ top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Knuble; one that featured 19 from the Florida skill players Stephen Weiss, David Booth, Niclas Bergfors, and Sergei Samsonov; it was a game that was ground out by both teams with few in the way of quality scoring chances.

Florida had the better of it early and put the Caps behind the eight ball with a goal by Bill Thomas at 15:03 into the period. But Nicklas Backstrom tied it barely two minutes later, converting a feed from Alex Ovechkin. While Backstrom and Ovechkin got the points on the play, along with a secondary assist from Mike Knuble, it was the little things that Backstrom and Ovechkin did before the set up that made the goal possible – Backstrom pushing his way to split the defense of Jason Garrison and Mike Santorelli to keep the puck alive behind the Panthers’ net and Ovechkin fending off Santorelli in the left wing corner to gain control of the puck and send it in front to Backstrom for the shot and a goal.

The Caps took a lead in the second when Boyd Gordon put his second goal of the season on the board, the happy result of some hard work by the Two Matts and a Boyd line, Hendricks and Bradley being the “Matt’s” who, with Gordon, befuddled the Panthers with their ability to work the puck below the goal line and keep the puck in the Panther end. Gordon jumped on a loose puck in front of Florida goalie Scott Clemmensen and lifted a backhander past the fallen goalie with a delayed penalty already coming to the Panthers as a result of the trio’s effort.

The Caps could not make the one-goal lead stand, though. John Erskine and Dennis Wideman took penalties 40 seconds apart in the latter stages of the third period to give the Panthers a 5-on-3 power play. David Booth converted for the Panthers to tie the game, that goal being the eighth 5-on-3 power play goal of the season for Florida, second most in the NHL.

That was it for the scoring in regulation, and with nine of the Panthers’ 26 wins coming in extra time, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing for the home team. But 48 seconds into the extra frame, Marcus Johansson and Alexander Semin played a little give and go – Semin heading down the left side and passing the puck Johansson in the middle. Johansson fed it back, and Semin wristed a laser past Clemmensen. Game over.

Other stuff…

-- The win preserves a pair of four-game streaks. The Caps have won four in a row overall and have won four in a row on the road.

-- The 10-26-15 line had its own “Gordie Howe Hat Trick,” Gordon with the goal, Matt Hendricks with the assist and the fight. Matt Bradley contributed five hits in less than ten minutes of ice time.

-- Backstrom didn’t get a star, but he had a nice line… a goal, six shots, a hit, and he won 11 of 17 draws.

-- The top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Knuble all had fewer than 18 minutes of ice time. You might try to explain it away by the fact that the Caps had just one power play, thus denying them that route to the ice. But Ovechkin had only 15:28 of even strength ice time, more than a minute less than his average (16:44). Backstrom had only 12:58 (almost three minutes less than his average) and Knuble only 12:40 (almost two minutes). Even their third period ES ice time totals were low – Ovechkin – 5:12, Backstrom – 4:37, Knuble – 5:06.

-- The Caps were only 9-for-25 on defensive zone faceoffs. Gordon struggled more than most, winning three of ten.

-- Semin’s goal came on his only shot of the game. In fact it was the only shot on goal for the entire line of Semin, Jason Arnott, and Brooks Laich.

-- Back to the time on ice thing. Karl Alzner and John Carlson were the defensemen on the ice in the last minute to end regulation; they were the defensemen on the ice to start overtime. Alzner got an assist on the Semin game-winner, but was not credited with being on the ice when it was scored, his place having been taken by Dennis Wideman just before the score.

-- Given the relative lack of ice time, it seems odd that the top line should have had a total of 15 shots on goal.  The other nine forwards recorded a total of only six.

-- Stephen Weiss…five giveaways? No other skater for either team was charged with more than one.

-- Odd that a defenseman would not lead his team in blocked shots, but there was forward Boyd Gordon with four. No other Cap had more than two.

-- The Caps were outshot, 12-0, on the power play. That’s what happens when one team gets six power plays, and the other team gets one. It was the fourth straight game the Caps had two or fewer power play chances, the second in a row in which they had but one.

-- The Caps outshot their own power play while they were shorthanded. Nicklas Backstrom had a pair of shorthanded shots on goal, Mike Knuble another.

In the end, it was one of the uglier ways to get two points, but any way you get them at this time of year is welcome. The Caps turn it right around and have an opportunity in Tampa tomorrow night to open up a little more room between themselves and the Lightning. It has been a long time coming – 67 days – but the Caps are back where they belong. Now that they have assumed the top spot in the Southeast once more (and only four points behind the Flyers for the Eastern Conference lead), perhaps it will serve as a springboard to bigger things.

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