With Alexander Ovechkin serving game one of his two game suspension for his hit on Tim Gleason, the other Alex, Alexander Semin, returned tonight from a wrist injury after missing seven contests and lit the Florida Panthers up for four points (two goals, two assists) in a Caps 6-2 romp at the Verizon Center. Semyon Varlamov (26 saves) received the start vs. Scott Clemmensen of Florida but the Panthers goalie didn’t make it to the end of the first period.
Below is the period by period play and analysis followed by post game analysis.
End of 1st Period Play and Analysis: Caps 2, Panthers 0
In the first 10 minutes Varlamov made some good saves on Florida chances after Caps giveaways, including a dandy one on Nathan Horton in the slot. At the other end the Caps over passed the puck instead of firing on Clemmensen and going for rebounds. Shortly thereafter a Panthers giveaway up the boards went right to Semin and he skated in and snapped one by the Florida goalie to make it 1-0 Caps and it was the 21st time out of just 28 games that Washington scored first.
Tomas Fleischmann then found the recipe for breaking out of a scoring slump (0 goals in his last 7 games): playing against Clemmensen! His wrister from the high slot beat #30 upper right and Panthers coach Peter DeBoer decided he’d seen enough of his starting cage minder and put in Alexander Salak with his team down 2-0 just under 12 minutes in.
Washington totally dominated the remainder of the period getting 18 shots on net to just 6 for Florida. The Caps nearly made it 3-0 on several occassions in the remaining 7 minutes but couldn’t get to any of the juicy Salak rebounds or missed the net. Overall, after a lackluster first 10 minutes, the Caps woke up and their breakout passes were crisp and on the tape leading to several strong scoring opportunities. The biggest negative of the period was Washington’s struggling power play, that went 0 for 2 on back to back chances. The only other thing that bugged me was the play of Alexandre Giroux, who just can’t skate, causing him to fail to convert on some good chances his linemates set up for him.
End of 2nd Period: Caps 4, Panthers 0
Florida came out very hard on the opening shift with Horton and Bryan McCabe getting some chances and John Erskine took a holding penalty. Washington, however, would be the team to take advantage as Matt Bradley scored shorthanded on a long shot from just inside the blue line to make it 3-0. Salak looked like a bad college goalie on that one. The Panthers were called for back to back penalties (Dave Steckel was hooked on a breakaway and then Greg Campbell high sticked Mike Green) giving Washington a 25 second two man advantage and they took only 11 seconds to score as Semin made a beautiful pass to Nicklas Backstrom, who slammed it home at the right post to make it 4-0 just over five minutes into the second period. The Caps failed to score on the reminaing power play with several shots being deflected just wide.
But Florida continued to mail it in and Washington received another power play at 9:39 when Backstrom was hooked in front of Salak. The Caps would fail to score, and even worse, Jeff Taffe decided to be one of the few Panthers to go hard up the ice and he went around Brendan Morrison like an orange road cone, forcing #9 to hook him but not before Taffe made Varlamov deny him in front. But it was Bradley and Steckel again with another great start to a Washington shorthanded situation and that allowed the Caps to eventually kill off the penalty. Karl Alzner was whistled for a rare penalty, a high stick, but Varlamov would deny any Panthers chances again.
The energy level after the Caps made it 4-0 seemed to drop in the entire building and the last five minutes or so was simply bad hockey to watch. The Panthers did get the last six shots of the period to make the on goal total, 31-19, Washington.
End of 3rd Period: Caps 6, Panthers 2
Things got crazy to start the 3rd period as Giroux made a totally clean hit on Dmitry Kulikov behind the Florida net and for some reason Mike Duco decided to jump #33 at center ice. It wasn’t like Giroux hit Kulikov dirty or took a run at him, because #33 is not that type of player, plus he can’t skate very well! Duco received a two minute penalty for instigating, a five for fighting, a ten minute misconduct, and a game misconduct. Right after Washington got on the power play the Panthers were called for another infraction and Semin earned his third point of the night setting up Morrison for an easy slot blast by Salak to make it 5-0. After a Caps interference infraction (Chris Clark) the teams went four on four for two minutes and shortly after Washington went back on the power play, Clark set up Semin for his second of the night (and 11th of the season) to make it 6-0.
The only thing left to decide was whether Varly would get a shutout and that was ended at 16:39 when Stephen Weiss went in one on two on Alzner and Brian Pothier and #9 shot the puck and then got the rebound to make it 6-1. Alzner needed to force Weiss and #2 made the mistake of leaving his feet, going down to one knee, and that allowed Weiss to get the biscuit that ricocheted off of Varly’s pads and finish off a brutal defensive and goaltending play (bad rebound allowed by #40). Florida would make it 6-2 as a Bryan Allen point shot was deflected off of Milan Jurcina in front and by Varly.
Here is the post game analysis and some quotes from Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau:
This was a simple case of a rested team going against a tired one as the Panthers played in Florida on Wednesday (they beat Colorado, 6-5, in a shootout) before flying to DC in the middle of the night. The Caps, after surviving some early giveaways, took advantage of Florida and dominated this one outshooting their opponents, 44-28. This win improves Washington to 17-5-6, good for 40 points and a nine point lead over second place Atlanta, who has three games in hand but were beaten, 4-1, by the Islanders on Thursday. The Caps continue to be a perfect 6-0 against Southeast Division opponents this season.
“I liked the way we followed the game plan in the beginning. We thought they’d be tired. If we attacked them early and got them down they might not have the strength to come back and I don’t know if that was the reason, but it worked well,” said Boudreau on the win.
Washington is now 3-0 against a Panthers team they struggled with in the past. The primary reason for the change, if you ask me, no Jay Bouwmeester for Florida as the all-star defenseman demanded to be moved and now plays in Calgary. With Bouwmeester bailing, former GM Jacques Martin packed up and left too and is now coaching the Montreal Canadiens. This opinion is harsh, but given that Florida has had to let top players Roberto Luongo, Olli Jokinen, and now Bouwmeester go over the past few seasons they might as well shut this franchise down.
“No excuses, I think we played the first eight minutes of the game then they took over. They beat us to all loose pucks, they won the all the puck battles, [and] it was a mess from there on in. There was a lot of frustration in the 3rd period. The game was over before the penalties started. The penalties are just frustration because we were losing all the puck battles, and losing all the races for pucks. It was an ugly night,” said Florida Coach Peter DeBoer, who really does not have much to work with talent wise, especially with #1 goalie Tomas Vokoun out because Keith Ballard accidentally whacked his own teammate in the head with his stick in frustration on Monday night.
Boudreau, who noted that the Caps still haven’t played a game yet with a full line-up this season, continues to get good goaltending and even though this was a laugher Varlamov made three saves early in the game and that allowed Washington to find their legs and get untracked. Varlamov, who is now 11-1-2 this season, wasn’t to blame on the last two goals (although the rebound on the first was not good) but Boudreau was not happy about them.
“Both goals shouldn’t have happened. The second one was tipped and you could see it was. The first one we made a mistake on it and we ended up costing us. It’s too bad because [Bradley] just had a great chance to get one and what often happens they come down and score a goal,” said the 2007-08 Jack Adams Trophy winner about the two goals that were allowed late by his club.
The power play, which has struggled recently, was better tonight in the last two periods and went 3 for 12. The Backstrom goal, off of a phenomenal Semin feed, was the play that all but ended this one after Bradley’s shorthanded marker gave the Panthers little hope of coming back. Semin was the first star and he made a huge difference tonight for Washington.
“Well it was my first game after injury and it’s always difficult to come back and play your first game. But the team played well and they helped me get back to my game. And I really didn’t think about it being the first without [Ovechkin], I’m just glad to be back,” said the immensely talented winger who makes one wonder how good he could be if he was motivated like the Great #8 seems to be on a day to day basis.
“He was well rested and he should have alot of energy,” added Boudreau when asked about #28’s performance.
Boudreau took exception to the Duco jumping of Giroux, especially since #33 delivered a clean hit to the Panthers young defenseman, Kulikov.
“Normally I would not have put [the top guys] back out on the ice, I would have rolled [the lines]. But when they are going to be stupid, and attack Alex [Giroux], it is almost what the game has come to, you get a good hit, and not a hard hit, and you take exception to a hit. I mean hockey used to be that you hit a guy hard and that’s what it’s all about. Now you hit a guy hard and you think you have to retaliate. It’s stupid, it’s a dumb thing and it took their team totally out of a chance to win,” finished Boudreau.
Next up for the Caps are the Flyers in Philadelphia on Saturday night, without Ovechin. The Great #8 should return on Monday night in Tampa Bay.