Sunday, February 10, 2013

A TWO-point night -- Game 12: Capitals 5 - Panthers 0

Washington Capitals fans got a glimpse this evening of what an Adam Oates system might look like when it is working.  OK, more than a glimpse.  The Caps scored early (a goal in the first period), scored late (two goals in the third period), and they scored in between (a pair of goals in the second period) to defeat the Florida Panthers, 5-0.

Sometimes, goals just happen.  With ten bodies in motion contesting every bit of a confined space, a moving puck is bound to have its path to the net altered from time to time, and there is little a goaltender can do about it.  Such was the case on the Caps’ first goal.  It started with good old fashioned forechecking.  Nicklas Backstrom fed the puck down the wall from the left point whereupon Wojtek Wolski and Erik Gudbranson fought over it.  The puck squirted behind the Caps’ net where Jerred Smithson tried to move it along.  But Troy Brouwer contested Smithson’s progress, and Smithson managed only to send a week pass attempt forward.  The puck made it as far as John Carlson’s stick, and Carlson wasted no time letting fly with a shot.  The puck nicked Brouwer on the way through, and goalie Jose Theodore was helpless to stop the redirected puck.

Brouwer and Joel Ward traded goals in the second period for the Cap, Brouwer firing a laser of a shot over Theodore’s glove.  The power play goal got its start when Florida cleared the puck down ice.  In doing so, the Panthers tried to swap out penalty killing units, but they were caught on the change by Braden Holtby, who sent the puck smartly up to Brouwer waiting at the Florida blue line.  Brouwer took it the rest of the way.

As for Ward, he tied Brouwer for the team lead in goals on a play that started once more with some good forechecking.  Eric Fehr took on Gudbanson (who would end up on ice for four goals against in this game) in the corner to Theodore’s right.  Gudbranson wheeled and tried to move the puck up the boards to Kris Versteeg, but Mathieu Perreault was being a pest about it.  Perreault would actually tie up both Versteeg and Drew Shore along the boards, and the puck popped free.  Fehr was there to try to move it along, and it was Ward who ended up on the receiving end in the confusion.  Ward nudged the puck toward the middle and flicked a shot past Theodore before either he or the defense could react.

The Caps reached back to the good old days for their fourth goal.  Mike Ribeiro tied up Stephen Weiss just long enough on a faceoff to Theodore’s left to allow Jason Chimera to jump in and push the puck back to Alex Ovechkin at the edge of the right wing faceoff circle.  Ovechkin snapped the puck past Theodore just two seconds after the drop of the puck on the faceoff to give the Caps a 4-0 lead.

Mathieu Perreault ended the scoring when Theodore could not control a rebound of a Jeff Schultz shot.  It was the end product of excellent pressure applied by the Caps, keeping the Panthers from clearing the puck out of danger, and Eric Fehr in particular, who paid a price in front of the Florida net, taking abuse from Tyler Strachan while he was setting a screen in front of Theodore on Schultz’ drive.

The only suspense left was to see if Braden Holtby would finish with his fourth career shutout and first of the season.  He turned away five shots after the Perreault goal to earn the shutout and end the Caps’ three-game losing streak.

Other stuff…

-- Four players earned their first points of the season in this game: Mathieu Perreault, Eric Fehr, Jeff Schultz, and Braden Holtby.  Perreault added his first goal for good measure.

-- Joel Ward earned the game’s third star, perhaps for his goal in the second period.  But maybe it was for his behind the back pass to Jeff Schultz that started the play on which Perreault scored.

-- The five-goal night represented the first time in 12 games that the Caps scored more than three goals.  The last time the Caps started a season going more than 11 games without scoring more than three goals in a game was in the 2005-2006 season when they went their first 13 games without reaching four goals.

-- From the “You Have to Start Somewhere” file… tonight was the first time in 12 games that John Carlson was not on ice for a goal against. In fact, he had an assist, was plus-1, had two hits, two takeaways, and three blocked shots.  It was probably his most complete game so far this season.

-- With his goal tonight Alex Ovechkin is 2-3-5 in his last four games and has four goals in his last eight games.

-- The Caps were 10-for-14 on offensive zone faceoffs, reversing the recent trend. 

-- Ten of the 19 players taking the ice (including goalie Braden Holtby) registered at least one point.  Spreading the wealth makes for a happy group.

-- It is hardly unusual that Alex Ovechkin would lead the team in shots on goal.  But Jeff Schultz having the second most shots?  It is the first time that Schultz had as many as three shots in a regular season game since January 9, 2010.  He even tied for the team lead tonight in total shot attempts with Ovechkin (he had four attempts blocked).

-- The Caps faced two shorthanded situations, tying their low for the season (they had two in a 3-2 win over Buffalo).  However, both might have been the result of undisciplined moments, Jason Chimera interfering with Tomas Fleischmann in front of the Panther bench 50 feet away from the play and Eric Fehr cuffing Erik Gudbanson in front of the Florida net as they were fighting for position.

-- When Braden Holtby is on, he plays with a certain swagger and control of his neighborhood. He doesn’t flail, and he doesn’t overplay shots that take him out of position.  He was on tonight.  There was much more economy in his effort than he has displayed in games to date.

-- The Caps had a lead at the first intermission and won.  That is the first time that sentence could be uttered this season (the were 0-2-0 with 20-minute leads coming into this game).

-- The Capitals scored first in this game and won.  Yup…first time this season.  They lost the other four games in which they scored first.

In the end, it was a complete 20-player win (we think Michal Neuvirth did a fine job manning the bench in a backup goalie role).  The scorers scored, the checkers checked, the grinders grinded…uh, grounded…ground…whatever.  There was precious little in the way of good scoring chances for the Panthers, and what there were suffered unhappy endings thanks to Holtby.  When the Caps got a lead, they did not take their foot off the gas, yet still played responsibly.

Sure, Florida is not exactly the strongest of opponents, but the Caps need two points wherever they can get them.  They stopped the bleeding, looked good doing it, and inched just a bit closer to a playoff spot.

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