Losing 1-0 to the Florida Panthers on Friday night, the Washington Capitals reached a critical juncture in the game and possibly their season when not only was Mike Knuble’s apparent game tying goal disallowed, but referee Eric Furlatt called goaltender interference on #22. That put the Panthers on the power play late in the second frame and into the third period. It was a VERY tough call against the Caps, and one can aruge that the zebra totally blew it, especially the part where Knuble had to go to the sin bin.
But what happened immediately after the call is what was most important. Caps Coach Dale Hunter didn’t go nuts on the bench, as some managers might do, instead the even keeled #32 remained calm. After all his team was totally dominating the Cats on the shot board and in scoring chances so Hunter had to feel like his team was going to come out on top, right?
With a three game losing streak and all kinds of negative stuff being written about his personnel decisions and his contract status with the team it probably would’ve been fairly easy and understandable for the hockey and farming expert to go ballistic. But anyone who has closely watched or been around Hunter since he took over as head coach notices that win or lose he remains on an even keel. That calm is a major intangible because when a coach loses it, players often feed off of the negative energy and lose focus.
Washington came out and killed off Knuble’s penalty then kept taking it to the Panthers over the last 20 minutes. Alexander Ovechkin finally broke through on the power play by going to the net (Knuble was there too and earned an assist) and Alexander Semin won it on a shot that deflected off of Sean Bergenheim’s stick past Jose Theodore (39 saves). It was a much needed victory and pulls the Capitals within two points of Southeast Division leading Florida with 25 games to go.
What is even more impressive is that the Caps are starting to win the quality scoring chance battle consistently and their puck possession has improved dramatically. According to super stats man Neil Greenberg (@ngreenberg), Washington has outchanced the opposition in the last six games. With Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green out and Brooks Laich playing injured, this trend is awfully encouraging because just imagine what might happen when Hunter gets his full line-up back, hopefully at some point this season?
Tomas Vokoun was back in goal after missing two games with the flu and after a shaky start he was good, though he didn’t have to do a whole lot the last 40 minutes because the Capitals carried the play. The 35 year old veteran certainly is a presence for Washington in net and he is 3-0 with just 1 goal allowed in three tilts versus his old club in 2011-12.
So now it is on to Tampa for game number two of a difficult and important four game road trip. The Caps found a way to fight and claw and get a win. Taking a cue from their head coach, they didn’t panic when Knuble’s goal was washed out and as a result they were victorious. Learning where to properly focus your energy is a key in pro sports, the Caps certainly did that correctly on Friday night and were rewarded. Kudos to Hunter and the players.
Finally, I’ll close with this memo to the Florida Panthers, courtesy of the Far Side:
Warning: Objects in mirror are closer than they appear!
Notes: Hunter and Jim Johnson’s hard work with defenseman Jeff Schultz is reaping some dividends. #55 logged 14:24 and was on the ice in the last two minutes of an ultra important contest…I thought Dmitry Orlov was fabulous tonight. He hit the crossbar and narrowly missed on another attempt but did pick up an assist on Semin’s GWG…Jeff Halpern did a great job on the last two d-zone face-offs and Kris Versteeg’s cheap head shot to #15 probably deserves an NHL review. It was a dangerous play…speaking of dangerous and not so smart plays, Cats d-man Mike Weaver left his feet trying to block the puck and not only took a stick in the mouth but got himself terribly out of position on Ovechkin’s game tying goal. I am a big believer that leaving your skates on defense should only be done as a last resort…Laich logged over 17 minutes, markedly up over the amount he played in each of the last four games. Perhaps his knee is getting better?…shots on goal were 41-23 in favor of the Caps and shots attempted were 75-50, again advantage Washington.