Caps Blank Panthers, 3-0

March 17, 2009 | Ed Frankovic

After a stinker of a game on Monday night on Versus the Washington Capitals rebounded strong just 24 hours later shutting out the Florida Panthers, 3-0, to move to 44-22-6 overall and take an insurmountable 15 point lead in the Southeast Division with just 10 games to go in the regular season. The blanking was additionally amazing in that the Capitals did not give up a single shot on net in the third period so Florida not only had a donut hole on the scoreboard but in the shots on goal column in the final period. Jose Theodore, who was totally hung out to dry by his teammates in last night’s debacle in Atlanta, made 19 saves and some of them were quality stops, especially in the second period when Washington was shorthanded three times.

The effort was back tonight and you could tell right from the get go that Washington was a different team, not only because they had defenseman Mike Green and forward Sergei Fedorov back from the flu, but because they were skating hard and beating Florida to the loose pucks. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau, knowing that his squad might be tired playing their third game in four nights, wisely rolled the lines and had the players go short shifts to keep everyone fresh. The strategy worked as well as Washington’s ability to clog the neutral zone on a Panthers team that relies on a transition game that is led by top defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Bryan McCabe. Those two players really hurt the Caps in a game at Verizon Center on March 1st that Florida won easily, 6-2. Tonight Bouwmeester was pretty much invisible offensively, although he did do a good job defensively on Ovechkin, and McCabe, who is wearing a shield after suffering a facial cut, only was noticeable at times on the Florida power play.

However, it was the Florida power play where the Caps won this game, unlike last night in Atlanta when the Thrashers scored on three of four chances. Caps forward Brooks Laich, who was the deserving number one star of the game, came down alone on Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun and fired a bad angle shot off the far post and into the net to give the guys in white a one goal lead at 5:46 of the second period. After that shorthanded tally the Caps would kill off two more Panthers power plays in the second period as Florida dominated play outshooting Washington 11-8.

But the third period was all Washington and when Viktor Kozlov, who had a very strong game tonight (his best in weeks), snapped one by Vokoun after a nice set up from Michael Nylander with Laich screening #29 you could see any energy left in Florida immediately diminish. Finally, when Green scored into an open net with 1:27 to go (his 25th goal of the year) this was one was totally done.

Here are some thoughts and comments on the game:

Ovechkin Streak is Over!! In case you are wondering what streak I am talking about, as I blogged last night and JP over at Japers Rink picked up on as well, the Great #8 had gone 12 straight contests without being a plus player for an entire game. Keep in mind Ovechkin did have a 10 game point scoring streak during those 12 games but the large majority of those points came on the power play while Alexander the Great has struggled at even strength. Tonight Ovechkin was on the ice for Green’s empty netter and finished a plus one and it was an important plus because both he and Alexander Semin very smartly passed the puck out of the zone to set up Green for a breakaway empty net goal. The Alexes should be commended for not thinking about goals #50 and #30, respectively, and making the simple and smart play to close this one out.

The Old Man Returns: Fedorov, when healthy, makes a huge difference for this team overall because he settles things defensively for Washington. The former league MVP and Selke Trophy winner (top defensive forward) is such a good two way player. #91 also had several good chances tonight but just couldn’t bury the puck. Look for him to break out soon in the points column.

Green for Norris: Is there any defenseman in the National Hockey League that means more to his team than #52? Boudreau calls him “the one man breakout” and there is not a better way to describe him. When Green plays the Caps are so much more efficient getting the puck out of their zone and up the ice. He also takes the power play to a new level because of his shot. The Caps are only 7-7 when Green does not play and 37-15-6 when he is in the lineup, no surprise there. With 25 goals and one of the league leaders in ice time I do not know how he can’t be a finalist for the Norris Trophy this year. Green was +2 tonight and is now +22 overall.

Theodore: Despite only facing 19 shots #60 had to be sharp in the first two periods as Nick Tarnasky, Greg Campbell, Stephen Weiss, and David Booth all had quality scoring chances directly in front of Theo. Theodore wasn’t bad on Monday but he wasn’t as good as Kari Lehtonen, so I’m sure he wanted to jump right back in and play tonight. Another good move by Boudreau going back to his #1 goalie after the team’s bad outing in Atlanta.

Other notes and tidbits: Anyone who has played the game knows that winning face-off requires technique but more importantly, it is mostly about effort. Tonight the Caps won the face-off battle 32-23 after getting buried at the dot last night (39-21). Not one Cap played over 23 minutes tonight (Tom Poti led the team in ice time with 22:53) and that is a good thing. As I mentioned above, Boudreau used everyone and the players adhered to short shifts, so they clearly got his pre-game message and video session about effort. John Erskine had two assists tonight. The Caps only had one power play tonight and it was drawn by some hard work along the boards by Eric Fehr (who continues to just get better and better). The power play’s best chance came on a beautiful cross ice pass from Semin to Backstrom but #19 shot the puck just over the net. Next up for the Caps are the Lightning on Thursday in Tampa Bay.

Addendum: By the way, congratulations to New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, who became the all time NHL leader in wins with a 3-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night. #30 now has 552 wins passing Patrick Roy.