So, we know they can pound teams with offense. This weekend we found that they can grind games out, too. The Caps posted their second consecutive 2-1 decision, downing the Florida Panthers by that margin on Saturday night.
Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the game-winner3:44 into the extra session when he took a pass from Dmitry Orlov at the far edge of the right wing circle, circled out through the middle of the ice, faked a pass to Alex Ovechkin crossing behind him, curled in and fired a low shot between the pads of goalie Al Montoya.
It was a sudden end to what had been a rather dull affair, long stretches of inconsequential action interrupted by odd goals. The Panthers got the first of them in the third minute of the second period as a Caps power play was ending. Alex Ovechkin fired a slap shot off the foot of Panther defenseman Alex Petrovic, the puck rebounding to the stick of Dave Bolland just inside the Panther blue line. He skated out with Jussi Jokinen on his right. As Bolland reached the Caps line, he tried to feather a pass to Jokinen heading down the middle. The bouncing puck eluded Jokinen’s first swipe at it, but he caught it flush on the second try and sent it over goalie Philipp Grubauer’s left shoulder for a 1-0 Panther lead. Petrovic, who was still lying in a heap in his own end when Jokinen scored, got an assist. Probably the most painful assist he will have in his career.
That goal stood up for almost 20 minutes. In the third minute of the third period, Justin Williams won a battle for the puck along the right wing wall and walked it out into the right wing faceoff circle. He sent a pass out to Ovechkin in the high slot, and Ovechkin did what he does – fired the puck. The puck was deflected in front, and before Montoya could smother it, Jay Beagle jumped in to tap it off Montoya’s left skate and in to tie the contest.
The play was reviewed by the on-ice officials after Florida coach Gerard Gallant, who felt that Williams interfered with Montoya as he was cruising across the top of the crease, exercised his coach's challenge. The officials went to the tablet to review the play…and review the play…and review the play…and finally concluded that the goal was good. That would be all the scoring until Kuznetsov ended things on a high note for the Caps in overtime, 2-1.
-- The play leading to the Kuznetsov goal looked a lot like the “read option” play in football. Think of it this way. Kuznetsov took the “snap” from Dmitry Orlov and walked the puck down the line. He faked a “handoff” to Ovechkin that froze the defense for an instant. It created an opening on the “edge” of the line that Kuznetsov could exploit to break free and move in for the score.
-- For the second straight game, the Caps were involved in a coach’s challenge on a goal. Both times, the goal was allowed, the Caps splitting the decisions for the weekend. And we are no clearer tonight on what the criteria are for affirming or rejecting a challenge than we were before the weekend.
-- Kuznetsov was awarded the game’s first star. Sure, he was the star of overtime, but of the game? He had one shot attempt in the regulation portion of the game and was moved off the top line. In 32:30 of regulation ice time for the weekend, he had one shot attempt, four hits, a giveaway, a takeaway, and won 14 of 26 draws. It was not a great weekend, although we will take happy conclusions like the one on Saturday.
-- More often that it merits, people will look at a goalie stopping 26 of 27 shots in an overtime win and say, “if not for [insert name of goalie], the game would have been over long ago.” It was true on Saturday night for the Caps, though. Philipp Grubauer – who really should have been the first star of the game – kept the Caps from embarrassing themselves with the opportunities the Panthers were getting in deep against the defense. He was a perfect 8-for-8 on Florida power play shots.
-- Speaking of power play, there will be an all-points bulletin issued for the Caps' version of it soon. After going 0-for-2 against Florida, Washington is now 0-for-7 over their last three games and 2-for-16 over their last six games. They have been held without a power play goal in 13 of their last 21 regular season games dating back to last year.
-- Alex Ovechkin recorded two shots on goal (none at even strength). It is the first time he has been held to two shots or fewer in consecutive games since a four-game stretch early last season, October 18-26. The Caps went 2-2-0 in those games. Ovechkin went 81 games without consecutive games with two shots or fewer. He did have eight shot attempts, making it 20 in two nights. Of that total, nine of them were misses.
-- Of five Capitals taking more than one faceoff, Chandler Stephenson was the only one coming out on the losing side of the ledger. He was 0-for-4.
-- Some arenas score hits differently than others. In Florida, they appear to be generous. The teams combined for 69 hits, and of the 35 recorded by the Caps, only Dmitry Orlov and Justin Williams were not credited with any. Kuznetsov led the team with four.
-- A slow start plagued the Caps once more. On Friday night, Washington did not record its first shot on goal until the 6:36 mark against Columbus. Against Florida, the first shot on goal was recorded at the 6:54 mark.
-- For the fifth time in ten games, John Carlson recorded more than 25 minutes of ice time. He skated a season high 28:19.
In the end…
It was by no means pretty, but not all wins are beauty pageants. The glass-half-full version of this game is that the Caps won in spite of not playing very well for many stretches of the game. Too often, the Caps coughed up the puck in dangerous places and allowed the Panthers chances. That Philipp Grubauer was a pool of calm (note: not "clam," as in a previous version) in goal – and aggressive when need be to challenge shooters – was encouraging after he allowed four goals on 23 shots in his first appearance of the season.
Still, the Caps struggled against a team playing with its backup goaltender and without its leading scorer (Jaromir Jagr). They get a couple of days off to work some things out before heading to New York to take on the Rangers on Tuesday in a game that could be for the Metropolitan Division lead.