Sunday, November 03, 2013

Washington Capitals: A TWO point night -- Game 14: Capitals 3 - Panthers 2 (OT/Gimmick)

All’s well that ends well.

The Washington Capitals were in the midst of a game that they could have – and almost did – let get away.  They did not, though, beating the Florida Panthers in a Gimmick, 3-2.

After spending five games on the road, finishing up with a rousing 7-0 over Philadelphia, the Caps came home to face a team that they had a habit of mauling in Verizon Center.  The Caps might have overlooked the Panthers, but it was more a case of trying to dance a two-step in waltz time.  The steps just did not work, and their feet kept on getting in the way.

That is, except to the extent the Caps could hoof it to the penalty box.  The Caps had to kill off three Panther power plays in the first period and six for the game, testing the eight-game streak they brought into this game without allowing a power play goal.

The Caps killed those three power plays in the first period, another in the second period, and another mid-way through the third period.  But the sixth time was the charm for the Panthers on a 4-on-3 power play when Jonathan Huberdeau slid the puck behind the net to Brian Campbell who fired it back in the direction from which it came, hitting Tomas Fleischmann on the tape of his stick.  Fleischmann buried the puck in the back of the net before goalie Michal Neuvirth could recover to the near post.  That goal, with just 2:38 left in regulation time, sent the contest into extra time.

Before that, though, it was a rough, sandpapery kind of game.  Marcel Goc and Michael Latta dropped the gloves in the first period after Goc was elbowed by Latta.  Goc got two to even the penalty scoring for instigating the fight.  It ended up suiting the Caps just fine 20 seconds later when Nicklas Backstrom took advantage of an odd bounce of the puck off the skate of the Panthers’ Jesse Winchester, collecting the puck in the slot with not a Panther around him.  Backstrom snapped the puck past goalie Scott Clemmensen before he could flinch for the first goal of the game.

Winchester atoned for his misfortune in the second period when he stepped around Brooks Laich at the Florida blue line just as Scottie Upshall was intercepting a loose puck.  Upshall led Winchester with a pass into the neutral zone, and it was all Winchester from there, outracing Steve Oleksy and Laich, who was desperately trying to hook Winchester from behind.  Winchester spared the referee from deciding whether to award a penalty shot (we think he would have) by slipping the puck between Neuvirth’s pads to tie the game.

The Caps struck quickly in response once more, though, answering with a goal just 36 seconds later.  Michael Latta scooped up a loose puck in the defensive zone and circled up the left wing boards with speed.  He carried the puck all the way into the Panther zone with Aaron Volpatti and John Carlson stepping up to create a three-on-two advantage for the Caps.  Volpatti drove the net, backing off the defensemen and creating a passing lane that Latta used to his advantage, hitting Carlson at the inside edge of the right wing circle.  Carlson wristed the puck past Clemmensen’s glove, and the Caps had their one goal lead back.

The Panthers tied the game late to force overtime, which passed almost without incident (the Caps had a 4-on-3 power play that they could not convert), leading to the free-style competition.  Mikhail Grabovski and Aleksander Barkov scored on similar one-handed moves that left the goalies helpless to look at the puck sliding past them.  Brooks Laich put the Caps at the advantage when a puck that slipped off his stick as he was trying to pull it to his forehand fooled Clemmensen just enough to sneak through his pads.  When Michal Neuvirth stoned Jonathan Huberdeau with a glove save on a snap shot, it was up to Nicklas Backstrom to end the night.  He did just that, snapping the puck past Clemmensen’s right pad just as the goalie appeared to be going for a poke check.  It was Nick first and Nick last for the win.

Other stuff…

-- The Caps penalty killing streak ended at 35 in a row.  The power play goal the Caps allowed was only the fifth they allowed so far this season, the second fewest in the league (Colorado: 3).  The Caps remain second in the league in penalty killing (90.7 percent).

-- The goal by Nicklas Backstrom made it the first time he had goals in consecutive games since Games 3 and 4 last season, against Winnipeg and Montreal.  It is the first time he has had three in two games since early November of 2011, when he followed up a pair against the Anaheim Ducks with a goal against Carolina.  If you are wondering, yes, he has had a three game goal-scoring streak, three times in fact.  The latest came in the 2009-2010 season.

-- Speaking of streaks, Jason Chimera’s goals/points streak ended at four.

-- The Caps played in a bit of bad luck with Eric Fehr hitting a crossbar on a power play, one of seven shot attempts by Fehr in 19 minutes of ice time.

-- We said that the game had a sandpapery feel to it.  It was especially coarse grit in the third period when Krys Barch ran Alexander Urbom into the side boards after he was upended by Steve Oleksy on a hip check at the other end.  Later it was Mike Green and Tomas Kopecky exchanging gloves to the face (and roughing minors).  Then, after Oleksy was run into the glass near the Caps’ bench late in regulation, he took a two-handed swing at the perpetrator, Scottie Upshall.  It was that last penalty that led to the Panthers’ tying power play goal.

-- Micahel Latta’s assist on John Carlson’s goal was his first NHL point.  It was Carlson’s 100th NHL point.  Carlson is now the only roster defenseman with a goal this season (Connor Carrick, currently assigned to the Hershey Bears, has the other one).

-- There is a line in the game summary that we do not often pay attention to, that being the “Even Strength – Goals/Occurrences” line.  However, tonight the number jumped out at us: “13.”  There were 13 separate occurrences of even strength play, an indicator of how choppy this game was.  By way of comparison, the game Friday against Philadelphia – one that fans might remember as more ornery – had ten distinct even strength situations.

-- The Caps were three for three shooting in the freestyle competition in this game.  That makes them 9-for-11 so far, an 81.8 percent shooting percentage.  Wasn’t last year the year when the Caps were supposed to have trick shot specialists?  Matt who?  Mike who?  Wojtek who?

-- This was one of those really odd games in this respect.  The Caps had only 23 shots on goal, but 11 of them came from the defense (the defense had 25 of the team’s 50 shot attempts).  If you take away the eight shots that the top line of Backstrom, Fehr, and Martin Erat had, that left four shots on goal for the other nine forwards.  For the record, they were: Aaron Volpatti, Jason Chimera, Tom Wilson, and Marcus Johansson.  Hey, the third line isn’t going to do it every night.

-- It was just about as odd on the other side.  Defensemen Dmitry Kulikov and Brian Campbell led the team with five shots on goal apiece.  Defensemen had 15 of the 33 shots on goal for the Panthers.

-- The win for Neuvirth came in what was only his second home start of the season.  It was only his third win at Verizon Center over the past two seasons.

-- Starting with a March 29, 2008 win over the Panthers in Florida, the Caps are 24-8-1 against Florida in their last 33 contests.  The Caps are 13-3-0 at home (3.94 goals/game to 2.13 for the Panthers) and 11-5-1 in Florida (3.35 - 2.77).

In the end…

Not every night is unicorns and accordions.  Sometimes, a team just has to plug away for 60 minutes when things are not going quite right, when they are coming off a high of a big win, when they just might be a bit out of kilter after a long spell away from home and playing the back half of a back-to-back set of games.  We thought the Caps might let the Panthers (who were playing their own back-to-back games) hang around into the third period, and they did.  But they ground out the last few minutes of regulation without letting things getting away entirely, then pushed through the overtime where they could then let their superior skill take over in the freestyle round (with a little luck on the stick of Brooks Laich). 

There are games one can look back on at the end of a season and think, “there’s a point they want back.”  Tonight the Caps got a point that one might look back on in April and think, “that’s one they could have left on the table and did not.”  If it comes down to a point for a playoff spot, the extra time effort in this one will matter.

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