Friday, October 21, 2016

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 4: Washington Capitals 4 - Florida Panthers 2

When the horn sounded at the end of last night’s contest between the Washington Capitals and the Florida Panthers, a Panther hit a milestone, but it was the Capitals skating off with the 4-2 win and two points.

The Caps started the scoring mid-way through the first period. Nate Schmidt skated the length of the ice and down the left wing wall to the corner to the right of goalie Roberto Luongo. Ducking under defenseman Aaron Ekblad, Schmidt sent the puck to the front of the net where it rattled around and ended up on the stick of Justin Williams. The first attempt by Williams hit Luongo’s pad and popped up in front of him. Williams got another whack at it and banked it off the post and behind Luongo to make it 1-0 at the 8:25 mark.

Less than two minutes later the Caps doubled their lead. Evgeny Kuznetsov started and ended the play. It began with Kuznetsov feeding Alex Ovechkin on the left wing heading into the Florida zone. Ovechkin tried to send the puck to T.J. Oshie, but the pass was broken up. Matt Niskanen stepped up and fired the loose puck at the Panther net, and before Luongo could glove the shot down, Kuznetsov skated through and redirected the puck down and past Luongo to give the Caps a two-goal lead 10:21 into the period.

Florida struck back on a goal by Mike Matheson three minutes later, and the teams went off at the end of the first period with the Caps holding a 2-1 lead. Fourteen minutes into the second period, the Panthers tied the game when a familiar face reached a career milestone. Having been stifled once already by goalie Braden Holtby, Jaromir Jagr found the back of the net for the 750th goal of his career. On a power play, Jagr backhanded the puck down the right wing wall to Jon Marchessault, who sent the puck deep to Aleksander Barkov below the goal line to the left of Holtby. Barkov sent the puck back out to Jagr skating down the slot, and Jagr one-timed it past Holtby to become just the third player in NHL history with 750 or more goals, joining Wayne Gretzky (894) and Gordie Howe (801).

The teams opened the third period tied at two apiece, but the Caps regained the lead in the eighth minute. T.J. Oshie tried to feed Alex Ovechkin at the right wing hash mark, but Ovechkin had his stick lifted before he could get off a shot. The puck slid out to Karl Alzner, who fed Matt Niskanen for a one-timer. On the way through, the puck was redirected by Ovechkin past Luongo’s left pad, and it was 3-2, Caps, at the 7:33 mark.

Marcus Johansson closed the scoring with less than two minutes left in regulation. Nicklas Backstrom chipped the puck off the right wing wall and down the ice where Jason Demers gave chase. Demers glanced back to see who was in pursuit, and it was just enough to allow the puck to escape his control. Johansson pounced on the loose puck, cut to the middle past Demers, and snapped the puck past Luongo with 1:20 remaining for the final margin in the Caps’ 4-2 win.

Other stuff…

-- Balanced scoring for the Caps was the key on offense. Three Caps recorded their first goals of the season: Justin Williams, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Marcus Johansson. Alex Ovechkin’s second goal of the season made it four goals from four different players. Seven different players recorded a total of eight points (Matt Niskanen had two assists).

-- Niskanen’s two-point game was his first on the road since he had a two-assist night against the Columbus Blue Jackets last January 19th, a 6-3 Caps win.

-- Four of the Caps’ defensemen did not record a shot on goal (Brooks Orpik, Karl Alzner, Nate Schmidt, and Dmitry Orlov). Niskanen and John Carlson had one apiece.

-- Washington was awarded just one power play, failing to convert on two shots. On the other side, they killed three of four Panther power plays, but that makes three games in four in which the Caps allowed a power play goal.  They are 26th in penalty killing (72.7 percent).

-- The Caps were just 24-for-55 in the faceoff circle (43.6 percent). If not for Lars Eller’s 9-for-13 performance, it would have looked a lot worse.

-- Florida out-attempted the Caps, 57-45, although the Caps outshot the Panthers at even-strength, 27-21.

-- Odd fact… seven of the 18 skaters recorded 22 shifts, including five of the 12 forwards.

-- Among goalies appearing in more than one game to date, Braden Holtby is third in save percentage (.938), trailing Montreal’s Al Montoya ((.962) and Boston’s Tuukka Rask (.947).

-- Home scoring? Washington was credited with only four takeaways, while the Panthers were credited with 16.

-- Four games, four times the Caps have not yielded a goal after the second intermission (four third periods and an overtime).  Washington is the only team left in the league that has not yielded a third period goal.

In the end…

Punch in, punch out.  Another solid, workmanlike performance by the Caps.  Balanced scoring, defending the Panther’s speed, opportunistic offense, solid goaltending (except for that throw-it-from-the-wall goal by Mike Matheson).  Before anyone thinks this was a less-than-dominating performance by the Caps, remember that this is a team that made the postseason last year and took the season series from the Caps.  It is good that the Caps are banking these points now, before they head to western Canada next week.  They get a chance to bank a couple more against the Rangers on Saturday.