It had been nearly three weeks since the Caps last game against the New Jersey Devils. The NHL was back in full force and Washington was in Sunrise to take on the Florida Panthers. Braden Holtby was in net against Tim Thomas, a familiar matchup previously seen in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.
With the time off, it was no surprise to see both teams play sloppy throughout the games entirety. Washington was off to a great start early in the first frame of action.
Former Cap Tomas Fleischmann was called for a minor tripping penalty, which gave the Caps their first crack at a power play. John Carlson fired it from the blue line and there was traffic in front. Troy Brouwer ended up putting it in the net with the nice rebound backhand.
Just over two minutes later, there was a Florida turnover in the neutral zone. Orlov moved to puck to Alex Ovechkin, who was on a two on one odd man rush. Ovechkin made a pass cross side to Brooks Laich for the one timer goal. A 2-0 lead just like that and the Caps looked as if they came to Sunrise with a purpose.
Dmitri Orlov had possession of the puck in the neutral zone, but then lost it to Jesse Winchester. Winchester then found former Cap Tomas Fleischmann for the layup goal to cut the deficit to one. Bad turnover by the defense leading to a goal, a common theme throughout the season.
After a nice first period for the Caps, the second frame did not start off well for the road team. Sean Bergenheim fired the puck in the slot on Holtby, but he made the save. The rebound kicked out to Brad Boyes for the easy put back goal. Washington had a two-goal lead, but now it was a tied game.
Washington was quick to respond and regained the lead with Nicklas Backstrom recording his 12th goal of the season. It was a nice play by Martin Erat to fire the puck across the net, which then deflected off of a skate right to Backstrom for the easy goal.
Ed Jovanoski got called for a tripping minor just over a minute before the period’s conclusion. The Caps power play had an opportunity to deflate the home team’s hopes and they came through. Backstrom found Ovechkin backdoor for a one timer. Thomas made a tremendous save and the puck was lying to the side of him. Brouwer was there to clean up the rebound for his second power play goal of the game.
The score was 4-2 entering the third period of action and the Capitals once again had a two goal lead. The momentum of the game turned in favor of the Panthers when Braden Holtby cleared the puck over the boards. He was then given a delay of game penalty.
The defense just about killed off the penalty, but the Panthers corralled the puck at the blue line. Drew Shores got credit for the power play goal with significant traffic right in front of Braden Holtby. The deficit was cut to just one goal.
Over a minute later, Karl Alzner failed to clear the puck out of the defensive zone. The puck came off the boards and suddenly the Panthers had a three on one odd man opportunity. Holtby made the initial save, but there were no other defenders to recover and Boyes had a layup for his second of the game.
So once again, the Caps squandered a two-goal lead, but that was not the most bizarre occurrence of Thursday night’s game. Mike Green came out of the box for a boarding penalty he served. A Capital defender had slid and tipped the puck out in front to Green so perfectly in stride just as he came out of the box.
Green had a one on one with Thomas and the goalie stumbled to the ground as he skated backwards. Green had an empty net, but failed to elevate the puck. Thomas made a glove save on Green that was considered robbery.A goal that seemed like it was for sure going to give the road team a one-goal lead, the Caps had to quickly recuperate.
Under five minutes left in the final frame, it was the captain that came through when his team needed him to. Backstrom forced a turnover at the blue line in the offensive zone and advanced it to Brooks Laich. Laich had the two on one break and found Ovechkin on the weak side for the game-winning goal.
It was an ugly win for the Capitals in their first game back from the Olympics. Giving up two two-goal leads is not going to cut it going down the stretch. It gets more difficult for now on as the team heads to Boston this Saturday. There were some positives throughout the club to come away with tonight.
The Capitals need some of their secondary players to step up down this stretch if they hope to make the playoffs. Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer and Nicklas Backstrom stepped up, as they needed to.
The break was good for certain players to get healthy and it looked like the time off benefited Brooks Laich. He played his best game of the season so far. He was up and down the ice on both ends and he was balanced on offense. His finishing ability on top of being able to make a difficult pass to Ovechkin late, this is the kind of play the Caps are going to need out of him.
The best part of last night’s game that was noticeable was the team’s use of traffic in front of the net. The main beneficiary from that style of offense was Troy Brouwer. He put in two power play goals and they were both hard working goals right in front of the goal.
Alex Ovechkin made some good plays throughout the night, but his game-winning goal was what the team needed the most. The Caps have won 28 games now and Ovechkin has 8 game winning goals on the season. It was his league leading 41st goal of the year.
Braden Holtby recorded his 18th win of the season and is still undefeated in his career against the Panthers. He played a solid game and made huge saves down the stretch of the third when they counted. Most of his goals allowed were due to defensive miscues. Holtby gets the fault for the third goal allowed due to the delay of game penalty.
The one bad takeaway from tonight was the early injury to Mikhail Grabovski. He got taken down at the board within the first few minutes of the game and slowly skated off the ice. He came back on for another shift minutes later, but that was the last of him anyone saw. There has been no word yet of the severity of his injury.
Since there are only 22 games left on the season, it is worth keeping tabs on the other teams to see where Washington sits in the standings. New Jersey defeated Columbus 5-2 so the Blue Jackets and Devils both now sit at 63 points. The Sharks did the Caps a favor by blowing out the Flyers 7-3.
The Capitals head to Boston for an early matinee matchup against the Bruins. They are only one point out from the Flyers for the third position in the Metropolitan division. The Boston game is a big game, but the bigger games for the Caps are their two games after. They play consecutive games against the Flyers on Sunday and Wednesday. Washington could do some serious damage to the Flyers if they were to come away with victories in both those match ups. It would help them climb the ladder of the standings while keeping Philly still.
The Florida game was a must win to start off the final stretch on a good note. It was not pretty, but two points are two points. They will be tested this Saturday against one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. This is their first significant test of many to come in the month of March.