The Washington Capitals made franchise history tonight by defeating the Florida Panthers, 3-0, for their fifth consecutive win. With the win, this Caps team now owns the mark for most consecutive wins to start a season. It was not an easy night for the home team, as the Panthers battled gamely but looked as if they succumbed to fatigue, having played their second road game in as many nights.
And this half of the Panthers’ back to back bore no resemblance, whatsoever, to the game they had in Tampa last night. Against the Lightning, Florida pelted goalie Dwayne Roloson with 33 shots, scoring on seven of them, five goals coming via the power play and another scored shorthanded. Tonight the Panthers mustered only 20 shots on Tomas Vokoun, who stopped them all for his 45th career shutout and his first for the Capitals.
At the other end of the ice, Jacob Markstrom played between the pipes in place of Jose Theodore, who grabbed the win last night. And of the two, Markstrom had the better night. He allowed two goals on 31 shots, and we’re guessing he would want both of them back. The first came on a power play early in the first period. With Scottie Upshall in the box for tripping Matt Hendricks, Nicklas Backstrom poked a loose puck from the faceoff circle down to Marcus Johansson at the goal line extended to the left of Markstrom. With no one in a white jersey jumping out to defend him, Johansson walked the line and snapped the puck from a severe angle under Markstrom. The goalie fell to his side, but the puck was under him, inching along the goal line. Markstrom rolled to try to find and smother the puck, but he managed only to whack the puck the rest of the way over the goal line with his stick. It was Johansson’s third goal of the season and what would be his second game-winner in as many games. If Mike Green is “Game-Over Green,” perhaps number 90 is “Game-Winner Johansson.”
The second goal was scored on the rare instance when Markstrom did not seem square and aligned with the puck. Mike Knuble started the play from the Caps’ end when he corralled a puck that almost got out of reach, then sent a long cross-ice pass to Semin heading down the right side. Semin backed defenseman Ed Jovanovski off, and as he was gliding through the right wing face-off circle snapped a wrister past Markstrom on the long side at 1:49 of the third period.
Other than that, Markstrom might have been the best player on the ice for either team. It’s one thing for a goalie to be big and fill the space, but to be as calm and economical as he was, yet athletic when he had to be means that shooters are almost always shooting with very little space available and only at low-probability scoring areas of the net. The Caps missed a fair number of shots tonight (officially, 15, but it seemed like more), but that might have been as much a product of Markstrom consistently giving them so little net to shoot at.
Still, the Caps solved him enough, and Vokoun did the rest with a couple of sparkling saves of his own, one in particular – a semi-breakaway by David Booth that was ticketed low on the far side, but that Vokoun deftly turned into the corner with his blocker in the second period when the outcome was still in doubt.
-- Wanna bet the Caps do 2-on-1 drills for the shooters when they get a chance to practice? Twice in the second period the Caps had excellent opportunities to score on a 2-on-1 and didn’t get a shot on either one. The first had Brooks Laich and Jason Chimera dashing into the zone on Brian Campbell. Laich held the puck but telegraphed a pass to Chimera, and Campbell smothered it with his stick. On the other, Jeff Halpern and Mathieu Perreault went in on a 2-on-1, and Halpern tried to feed Perreault at the doorstep. But Perreault could not handle the pass, and the opportunity went by.
-- The Caps had the first nine shots of the game and did not allow a Panther shot on goal until the 11:37 mark of the first period. From that first Panther shot forward, the shots were relatively equal, 23-20 for the Caps. Those first nine shots, even though the Caps scored on one of them, represented a missed opportunity to take advantage of a green goalie and put a tired team away early.
-- The Caps had 12 power play opportunities in their first two games, five in their last three (one tonight). They are 3-for-5 in those five opportunities (including their lone chance tonight). They have power play goals in four of five games.
-- Awkward moment in the second period…shot goes to the net; Vokoun turns it aside. Alexander Semin and Matt Bradley end up tangled with one another on the ice in front of Vokoun.
-- Florida had three power plays, all of them killed off by the Caps. The Panthers did not so much as register a shot on goal in either of the first two.
-- That’s 99 saves on the last 102 shots Tomas Vokoun has faced dating back to the third period of the Tampa Bay game last Monday – a .971 save percentage.
-- Caps won the turnover battle (takeaways/giveaways) 30-17. Fourteen skaters split 21 takeaways.
-- Last night the Panthers had nine power plays and won 12 of 16 faceoffs on the man advantage. Tonight they had two power plays and split two draws in those situations. 24 hours can make a lot of difference.
-- Mike Knuble skated 11:50 tonight, the lowest amount of ice time since he skated 10:00 against Atlanta last November 10th. And he did not skate in the third period of that game. He did not have a shot attempt tonight.
-- Speaking of ice time, that’s three games in a row in which Alex Ovechkin skated fewer than 19 minutes (17:35 tonight).
-- The Caps spread the ice time around. Ovechkin’s 17:35 led all forwards; the defensemen had a high of 21:56 (Roman Hamrlik) and a low of 17:22 (Jeff Schultz).
-- They spread the shots around, too. No player had more than four (Semin), and seven had three or more. Ovechkin was not among them (two).
-- Folks got to see The Full Hendricks on display tonight. There was the nifty “show em the puck and pull it back” curl and drag that he’s used on a shootout that almost solved Markstrom in the second period. There was Hendricks getting under the skin of a couple of Panthers and tangling with Jack Skille briefly in the second (each drew a minor for roughing). He drew a penalty that ended in a Caps power play. And there was Hendricks as a one-man pursuit team on Florida’s power play in the first period. On a 38-second penalty killing shift he was all over the ice harassing Panthers and pilfering pucks. Only Mathieu Perreault skated fewer shifts than the 15 Hendricks had, but he might get more excitement per shift than almost any other Cap.
In the end, wins are wins. Was it the best the Caps can play? No. Ovechkin is still misfiring, if he’s firing at all (four shot attempts). But he was trying different things and different looks. Adding that variety is a work in progress. The defense pairs can still have their moments of indecision. That should improve as the new pairs become more familiar with one another. But the shakedown portion of the early schedule is over. In their next five games the Caps will play teams that have a combined record at the moment of 16-4-3, and the worst of the individual records belongs to last year’s Stanley Cup runner-up, Vancouver (2-2-1). Three of those games are on the road, two of them (Edmonton and Vancouver) on a short western swing.
As long as Vokoun is playing the way he is, though, it would be hard to think of the Caps as a clear underdog in any of those games. Think back on what Bruce Boudreau said about Vokoun after his last game:
"I just thought [his] first game wasn't so good, the second game was really good and [Saturday, against Ottawa] was really, really good. So you hope [he] keeps adding one of those reallys into every game."
Vokoun might not have added a “really” in this game, but he’s still on “really, really.”