The Washington Capitals remained undefeated in the new year by getting goals from four different players in defeating the Florida Panthers, 4-3, on Sunday afternoon at Verizon Center. The Caps carved out the win by scoring first, then falling behind before scoring three straight goals and holding on late for the victory.
It started for the Caps after a scoreless first period. With Dave Bolland off for a hooking penalty as the first period ended, Alex Ovechkin scored his 19th goal of the season on the ensuing power play. It was rather standard fare for the Caps, the scoring sequence starting as Marcus Johansson skated the puck through the right wing faceoff circle before dropping it down to Nicklas Backstrom at the goal line extended to goalie Roberto Luongo’s left. Backstrom wasted no time sending the puck through the slot to Ovechkin pinching down on the off wing. Ovechkin’s one timer beat Luongo before the goalie could push across the crease, and the Caps had a 1-0 lead.
Florida took a lead when they scored goals just 1:25 apart shortly after the Ovechkin tally. Vincent Trocheck and Dylan Olsen scored to give the Panthers a 2-1 lead just 5:22 into the period. The second half of the second period belonged to the Caps, though. Brooks Laich tied the game in a case of the third time being the charm. After Lunogo turned away two Laich attempts in a five second span, Laich got a third opportunity from the top of the left wing circle. His slap shot through the legs of Panther defenseman Shane O’Brien flew past the left shoulder of Luongo, and the game was tied at the 12:13 mark.
The Caps took the lead for good in the last minute of the second period when Karl Alzner took advantage of some fierce forechecking by Eric Fehr to rifle a shot through a screen in front of Luongo to give the Caps a 3-2 lead at the second intermission.
Washington bought some insurance early in the third period when Andre Burakovsky picked up a puck that bounced off the stick of Ovechkin and slammed a shot past a diving Al Montoya, in for an injured Luongo in the Panther net.
The Caps would need that insurance as Nick Bjugstad got the Panthers within a goal in the final minute, snapping a shot from a severe angle over the left shoulder of goalie Braden Holtby. It was as close as the Panthers would get, though, as the Caps skated off with a 4-3 win.
-- Alex Ovechkin has his third multi-point game in a row (1-1-2). It was the first time he has three multi-point games in succession in season since March 21-24, 2013 (he had three straight multi-point games that included the last game of that 2012-2013 season and the first two games of the 2013-2014 season).
-- Karl Alzner set a career high with his third goal of the season. He has done it with efficiency, converting three of 30 shots so far this season, the only Capital defenseman with a shooting percentage of 10.0 percent or better. Alzner finished with eight shot attempts (two shots on goal), which seems like two weeks’ worth for him.
-- The Alzner goal was the product of some gritty forechecking by Eric Fehr. When Roberto Luongo stopped a dump-in behind his own net for Dylan Olsen, Fehr jumped up quickly to challenge Olsen. Keeping Olsen from being able to control the puck, Fehr was able to one-hand a pass out from behind the net to Alzner, who was waiting inside the Panther blue line. From there it was a matter of Alzner getting the puck on net through a Brooks Laich/Joel Ward screen in front of Luongo for the score.
-- Nicklas Backstrom was 18-for-26 on faceoffs, Troy Brouwer was 6-for-6, and Jay Beagle was 7-for-11. That’s pretty much owning the circle.
-- Florida finished with 32 shots on goal, making it four in a row in which the Caps allowed an opponent more than 30 shots on goal, the longest such streak of the season.
-- The Caps killed all five shorthanded situations they faced. It was the first time they were perfect in killing five or more shorthanded situations since Opening Night against Montreal (5-for-5).
-- The Caps managed to roll lines with some measure of consistency. Every forward finished with at least ten minutes of ice time; no forward skated more than 19 minutes.
-- Eric Fehr and Troy Brouwer, two of the heroes of the Winter Classic, both finished without a shot on goal and only two shot attempts (each had an attempt blocked).
-- The Caps killed off another 5-on-3 situation, although this one (unlike the 1:31 situation they faced against Chicago on Thursday) lasted just 47 seconds. Once again, they held the opponent without a shot on goal for the duration of the 5-on-3.
-- In bowling, converting a 4-7-10 split is quite an accomplishment. Unfortunately, it does not work that way in hockey, but that is what it looked like when Mike Green, Jack Hillen, and Evgeny Kuznetsov collided at the Panther blue line after Kuznetsov whiffed on a shot attempt. It set up a two-on-none break that resulted in Florida's first goal.
-- Alex Ovechkin leading his club with nine shot attempts is not uncommon. Defenseman Aaron Ekblad leading his with 13 shot attempts (five on goal)? Probably not nearly as common.
In the end…
The Caps passed a test of sorts with this game. With three days off after their biggest regular season game of the season, coming at the end of the holidays, the Caps might have sleepwalked through this contest. It was not their sharpest effort of the year, but it was a gritty win nonetheless. Slowly and surely, the Caps have positioned themselves to make a leap in the standings with their play over the last month. They are just two points behind the Detroit Red Wings for fifth place in the Eastern Conference with a game in hand, and they are just five points behind Tampa Bay for fourth place with two games in hand.
The Caps will be tested, though, as they embark on a back-to-back set of games in Toronto and in Philadelphia on Wednesday and Thursday, the first of four back-to-backs they will play over the next four weeks. They seem well prepared for that test, though, with solid play that has carried over for more than a month, doing what they need to do to grind out wins on a regular basis. Just what they will need as the long nights of winter begin.