Well, they won.
The Washington Capitals started their home stretch on the right foot, if only with a halting step, by defeating the Florida Panthers last night, 5-4, in Sunrise, Florida. The Capitals never trailed in the game, but neither could they hold a lead.
The Caps opened the scoring with a pair of goals 2:22 apart early in the first period, the first being the product of persistent stick work by Troy Brouwer on a power play. In the middle of the 1-3-1 set up, Brouwer had an active stick on shots coming through, trying to deflect one past Panther goalie Tim Thomas. It would be a loose puck, though, that Brouwer would finally backhand over Thomas’ blocker to give the Caps the lead.
Brooks Laich made it 2-0 in short order when Alex Ovechkin broke in with him into the Panther zone. From the top of the left wing circle Ovechkin hinted at a shot but laid the puck off to Laich on the opposite side. Laich buried it before Thomas could scramble across, and it was 2-1.
That did not last. Tomas Fleischmann got one back with less than five minutes left in the period when he snuck into the slot and converted a pass from behind the net by Jesse Winchester. Brad Boyes tied it 40 seconds into the second period when he swept in a loose puck lying at the post to the left of goalie Braden Holtby.
The Caps recaptured their two-goal lead in the period, first when Nicklas Backstrom snapped a loose puck in the low slot past Thomas, and next when Brouwer walked calm as you please into the crease and tapped the puck past a prone Thomas.
Florida got them back in an 82-second span in the third period, courtesy of Drew Shore on a power play, then Boyes again at the 9:23 mark. That left things up to Ovechkin. It started when the Panthers could not clear the puck out of their zone along the right wing wall. When Panther defenseman Dmitry Kulikov chipped the puck along the wall, it seemed to be a signal for his teammates to fly the zone. When Nicklas Backstrom knocked down the attempt at the blue line and chipped the puck back to Brooks Laich, it created a 2-on-1 for Laich on the right side and Ovechkin on the left, Mike Weaver the only Panther back. Laich held the puck until Weaver committed and laid out, then slid the puck across to Ovechkin who one-timed the puck past Thomas for the game-winner.
-- Remember that stuff about two-goal leads we scribbled a little while back? The Caps added two more two-goal leads to their body of work this season, lost them both, and still won the game. They are now 16-1-2 when taking a two-goal lead and preventing the other team from earning one.
-- In his last 12 appearances in which he played all 60 minutes, Braden Holtby has allowed four or more goals seven times. Draw your own conclusions.
-- Two power play opportunities, two power play goals. It was the first time this season the Caps pulled off that trick.
-- The top line sure was working. Brooks Laich, Alex Ovechkin, and Nicklas Backstrom each went 1-2-3. For Laich it was his first multiple point game this season and his first since April 5, 2012, against these same Florida Panthers (a 4-2 Caps win to clinch the 2012 Southeast Division title). It was his first three-point game since November 1, 2011, in a 5-4 overtime win against the Anaheim Ducks.
-- On the other hand, it was Backstrom’s third multiple point game in his last five contests. He broke a 15-game streak without a goal, although he is now 1-8-9 over his last six games.
-- For Ovechkin it was his fourth multi-point game in his last nine games. He is 11-11-22 over his last 18 games and has points in 14 of those games.
-- Let’s not leave Troy Brouwer out of this. His two power play goals make it five goals in his last three games. It was the first time he recorded two power play goals in a game since December 13, 2010, when he had a pair in a 7-5 loss to the Colorado Avalanche and he was skating for the Chicago Blackhawks.
-- Also not to be left out of the multiple point parade is John Carlson. He had a pair of assists to make it three multi-point games in his last six. He is 1-7-8 over his last nine games.
-- Four shifts, 2:20 of ice time, no shots, no points, no good. Mikhail Grabovski left the game in the first period after getting tangled up with Nick Byugstad, apparently reinjuring his wonky ankle.
-- Grabovski’s injury meant some scrambling of lines and roles. One effect – Jay Beagle skated 15:31, his second highest ice time logged this season.
-- It strikes us as a bit odd that Nicklas Backstrom, who took the most faceoffs for the Caps last night, was the only Cap to be under 50 percent for the evening (5-for-16; 31.3 percent).
-- Mike Green had a game he probably does not want to remember. Green skated only 18:35 in his return from a concussion sustained against Columbus back on February 4th. It was his first time under 20 minutes in a full game since December 27th (19:10) and his lowest ice time for a full game since December 17th against Philadelphia (18:05). He was on the ice for three Panther goals, although his partner (Dmitry Orlov on the first two of them) certainly played a role, getting walked around on the boards leading to the first Panther goal and wandering away from the post to let Brad Boyes tap in a loose puck for the second Florida score.
-- Nicolas Deschamps got a sweater when Marcus Johansson was a late scratch. Nine shifts, 7:38 in ice time. Welcome to the show, kid.
In the end...
The two-goal scorer Troy Brouwer might have had the best take on the proceedings:
“After that game, it’s a win, but it’s not really a winning feeling in here at the moment.”
Yeah, OK. You still got two points. So suck it up. Things are going to get real, really fast. Boston, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh – twice apiece – over the next seven games. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.