Caps Off to Best Start Ever

October 18, 2011 | Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals came in to Tuesday night’s game against the Florida Panthers with a perfect 4-0 record, but they had yet to really play a complete 60 minutes this season. You can cross that off of the list now as the Caps came out and forechecked the Panthers to death in a very solid and dominating 3-0 victory. Washington got an early power play goal from Marcus Johansson, then Alexander Semin rifled one by Jacob Markstrom (29 saves) just 1:49 into the final period, and Jason Chimera hit the empty net to close this one out with 44 seconds left. Tomas Vokoun won his fourth straight game making 20 saves for his first shut out as a Capital. This is the first time in Washington Capitals history that the team has started 5-0.

Here are the quotes, highlights, and analysis of a victory over a team that had pummeled the Tampa Bay Lightning, 7-4, with 5 power play goals,  just one night earlier:

- The Panthers had to fly in late Monday night from Florida but that is how the sports schedule works out sometimes. Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau and his team knew this and jumped all over the Cats early on. Florida didn’t have a shot on goal until after the 10 minute mark of the first period as Washington continuously got pucks deep and used their size to cycle the puck on a soft Panthers defense to generate numerous scoring opportunities. The Caps could have had at least three or four goals in the opening stanza but they either fired wide or the Swede, making his first NHL start, denied them with his large frame.

“I think we tried to do that. They were tired. They played two very emotional games against their cross town rival and had to fly here so we thought this was the perfect advantage for us in the scheduling. I’m sure probably somewhere down the road it will reverse itself. We got a break and if you don’t take advantage of the breaks, shame on us,” said Boudreau on how the NHL slate helped his team on Tuesday.

- It was encouraging to see the Capitals simplify their game and not get caught up in to trying to make the perfect cross ice pass. Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Ovechkin, and Troy Brouwer played smart hockey and were physical on a not so big Panthers defensive unit. Washington seems to play their best hockey when they play as a team and don’t get fancy. Their work ethic was outstanding on Tuesday and the score was much closer than the game actually was because at no point did I ever feel like Florida had a chance to win this contest.

“The first two lines got pucks deep, so that really helped. When we get in trouble we try to play too skilled. When we get pucks deep, it’s hard to contain big bodies like Ovi (Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin), Knubs (Capitals forward Mike Knuble) and Semin (Capitals forward Alexander Semin),” said Chimera on why the Caps were so dominant.

“We were getting it and getting it deep and moving it. I thought for the first time this year we could have had 7 or 8. We were missing nets and their goalie played pretty good. I thought it was a well rounded effort by us,” added Boudreau on the victory.

- Vokoun only had to face two shots in the first period but in the next two stanzas he stopped nine each. There were times when he had to make a solid save to bail out a poor defensive play but overall his team was solid in front of him, which allowed him to challenge shooters. The 35 year old on a $1.5M one year deal, since a shaky opening 60 minutes against Tampa, has been everything the Capitals have needed in goal and more.

“He’s pretty solid and when we did have breakdowns he was there to help us out. That is what you need,” commented Boudreau on his net minder.

- Special teams are so important in NHL games and on this evening the Caps were perfect in that department. They only took two penalties, both on Roman Hamrlik (although I thought the first one was a bogus call), and they stymied a highly skilled and dangerous Cats power play. Washington swarmed the puck and took away any space the Panthers had and on both occassions, they weren’t able to get much of a sniff of the net. The only power play the Caps received was quite effective as Johansson buried the biscuit after some solid zone time. The key to that power play was the work of Ovechkin in the slot, who was flanked by MJ90 and Backstrom with Mike Green and Dennis Wideman at the points. When all three Panthers converged on Ovie, Johansson had a lane to the cage and he slid the puck under Markstrom less than five minutes into the contest. Those who’ve followed this blog know that I much prefer Ovechkin down low (slot or half wall) on a 5 on 4 power play because he can use his size in front for screens or in getting to rebounds. With so many good shots on the point now, to include Green, Wideman, Hamrlik, and John Carlson, it makes much more sense for the Gr8 to be down low. I am okay with Ovechkin getting point time in 5 on 3 or even 4 on 3 situations because in those instances there will be more open lanes for his powerful shot to get through. But overall, putting Alexander the Great down low will likely lead to more power play goals for the Caps and Johansson’s marker tonight drives that point home.

- In summary, this was a total team effort, granted it was against a tired club. But the Panthers have some talent, although they appear low on grit. Just about every Washington player had a good game, but Green was superb despite getting slashed in the lower body region by Jay Garrison at the end of the second period. Semin was excellent as well and he’s been the best forward on the top two lines this season. Backstrom is off to a nice start too and #19 looks to be regaining the form he had in 2009-10. It’s only been five games, but the Caps have 10 points. Boudreau, however, knows you can’t win the Stanley Cup in October and he talked about that after the victory.

“When it comes to April and May I’m not going to be able to sit here and say, ‘Hey we were 5-0, we got that record, isn’t that great.’ It is not going to hold a lot of weight. It is nice, but it is just the process of getting where we want to get. Right now we’re looking toward an opponent like Philadelphia who is 4-0-1,” finished Boudreau, noting that the Capitals next game is the hated Flyers on Thursday night in Philly. That will be a can’t miss contest.

Notes: Washington lost the faceoff battle 24-22 but Jeff Halpern was 8-1. MJ90 was a dismal 1-6 from the dot…Matt Hendricks had a game leading six hits…Semin was +2 and had 4 shots on goal in 16:03 of ice time…Mathieu Perreault returned to the lineup and played 9:53 (even, 0 points)…Dany Sabourin was recalled from Hershey to be the back up goalie as Michal Neuvirth continues to struggle with a lower body injury…Jay Beagle is not practicing right now and DJ King was the other scratch at forward.

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