After Friday night’s contest in Sunrise, won by Washington, 4-1, the depleted Caps without Alexander Ovechkin, Mike Green, and Jeff Schultz took on the Florida Panthers in a rematch at the Verizon Center and after a horrible second period in which they gave up three goals and trailed 3-2, they exploded for five third period tallies to win 7-4. Give some of the credit to Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau for this win because he very smartly changed up his lines after the bad middle period and that got center Nicklas Backstrom going as he, Mike Knuble (two goals, two assists), and Tomas Fleischmann (two goals) caught fire in the third period. The Caps move to 10-3-4 and they now lead the Southeast Division by 7 points over Tampa Bay, but the improving Lightning have two games in hand.
The Caps came into this contest number one in the NHL in first period score differential at +14 and for the 14th time in 17 games they scored first. Brooks Laich made a hustling play in the slot to beat 3 Panthers to a tipped Shaone Morrisonn pass and he carried the puck into the left wing corner. #21 then fed Brendan Morrison behind the Florida goal and he found Mike Knuble on the right post, who one timed it home by Scott Clemmensen with 6:48 left.
Washington received a late power play with 1:46 to go in the opening stanza when Bryan McCabe boarded Quintin Laing but just 18 seconds in Alexander Semin took a lazy tripping penalty to take the Caps off of the man advantage. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau’s frustration level with #28 likely continues to grow after that bad decision by the Russian.
After Semin and Keith Ballard went off for coincidental minors the teams went 4 on 4 and a very weak point shot by McCabe was not handled well by Theodore and Alexander Frolik outworked Tyler Sloan for the puck and put the rebound past #60 just 1:35 into the middle period. This was one shot that should have been played better by the Caps net minder and it resulted in a bad goal.
Washington then seized the momentum back as Milan Jurcina made a great breakout pass to Laich and #21 hit a streaking Morrison in front that forced Bryan Allen to hook him. On the ensuing power play Washington put on the pressure and they finally broke through when they cycled the puck along the boards to get Florida running around. Chris Clark received the puck below the goal line and he fed Laich (one goal, one assist) in front and #21 beat Clemmensen through the wickets to make it 2-1 Caps 6:17 into period two.
But the Caps lead would not last very long and on consecutive shifts they could not get the puck into the Florida end of the ice as the Panthers forecheck was strong and Washington broke down defensively. As a result Florida set up 19 year old rookie defenseman Dmitry Kulikov at the point and his shot eluded a screened Theodore. Sloan was in front with Radislav Olesz and he blocked #60′s view. This was a very bad shift by Sloan and one of the stars of Friday night struggled through the first 30 minutes of this one and was a -2 at that point, not good.
After Backstrom missed a golden opportunity in front, Florida kept coming at Washington and they outworked Washington down low to make it 3-2. Sloan and Jurcina were once again the culprits as Michal Repik tapped it home from the doorstep. #89 and #23 dropped to -3 at that point in the contest. Clearly that defensive pairing was not working for Boudreau and his forward lines were struggling to get it going too, particularly the Backstrom, Semin, and Tomas Fleischmann line.
But Boudreau mixed up his lines to start the 3rd period putting Knuble with Backstrom and Fleischmann and it didn’t work magic immediately as they struggled to get the puck out of their own zone to start the period. However, once they carried the biscuit out, dumped the puck in and changed, the energy line of Clark, Eric Fehr, and Mathieu Perreault came out and #85 was great outworking the Panthers behind their net, passed to himself off the back of the goal, and then he stuffed it home on Clemmensen to tie the game up. It was Perreault’s first NHL goal in just his third game.
Washington continued to pressure and they struck just 40 seconds later with the line of Dave Steckel, Matt Bradley, and Laing. Tom Poti made a great play dumping the puck to the right wing corner where Bradley gobbled it up and fed it in front where Laing was headed to the net and he put it by Clemmensen to give Washington the lead.
But Florida came right back and tied it at 14:45 on a Corey Stillman deflection of another Kulivov point blast. The tie didn’t last long either as Backstrom showed renewed life with the weight of having to play with #28 lifted off of his back and he and Knuble outworked the Panthers defense down low and set up Fleischmann for a tap in to make it 5-4, Capitals. Clearly getting away from Semin snapped Backstrom out of his funk and he, Knuble, and Flash then dominated another shift to give Washington some cushion. #19 gathered in a Knuble slot miss and fed Shaone Morrisonn at the point who fired it towards the cage and #22 deflected the biscuit between his legs and past a stunned Clemmensen to make it 6-4 with nine minutes remaining. That line was still not done for the evening and when Knuble outworked the Panthers behind their net and found Fleischmann in the slot, #14 blasted it by Clemmensen, who had one of his worst outings in the NHL, to give the Caps a 7-4 advantage with just 6:22 remaining.
Here is my post game analysis including some quotes courtesy of the Caps media relations department:
Wow, that was a wild game and the goaltending was not good at all, particularly from Florida’s Clemmensen. Theodore (24 saves) was struggling too and if the Caps had not totally outworked the Panthers in the third period Washington might have lost this one. Theodore continues to be unable to put really strong back to back performances together. Yes, he made some good stops early but the bad rebound goal he allowed that put the Panthers on the board woke Florida up and they took advantage of a tired and beaten up Capitals defense in that middle stanza. Theodore’s rebound control was not very good on Saturday and the head coach may have to reconsider playing him on back to back nights in the future, but he got away with it on this night thanks to a great 3rd period effort by his troops.
Semin, who the Caps expected to step up in Ovechkin’s absence, was pretty much a non factor once again. He had no points in both games with Florida. In fact, I am not sure his teammates have any confidence in him as Fleischmann elected to try a bad angled shot in the second period instead of passing to a wide open #28 at the top of the circle. Semin was in perfect position for a quality shot there, so perhaps Boudreau saw that lack of chemistry and decided to put #28 with a couple of hard workers like Brendan Morrison and Laich, who will not put up with a floater on their line (and Semin was clearly in the floater zone these last three games). Knuble clearly liked the changes in line combinations.
“We’ve got different guys that can play together. You try to fit in where you can and just play. Tomas [Fleischmann] – I’m really impressed with his hands around the net – his ability to finish. It just seems right when he gets the quality chance it’s going in and obviously Nick [Nicklas Backstrom] is a passer. They’re fun guys to play with. You know something good is probably going to happen,” said Knuble about his third period linemates.
Perreault’s goal early in the third period sparked the Caps. He has been a real fire plug and appears to have a bright future as has been suggested a couple of times in the past in this blog. #85 received a post game shaving cream facewash to go along with the red hard hat, awarded to a hard working player who made a major difference for Washington in that evening’s contest.
“I was on the forecheck and I got the puck [by the net] and I knew the goalie was looking on the wrong side and I just tried to stuff it between his pads and it worked out. I had a lot of energy when I stepped on the ice. I felt I had a lot of legs because I was on the bench for a little while. So it was good, I felt good on the ice in the third period,” said Perreault about his game changing play.
Laing, who blocked a shot with his ribs in the first period and then apparently broke his nose in the second period, added to the energy with his goal shortly thereafter and credit to Bradley and Steckel should be given too because those guys, as a unit, play Boudreau’s system very well.
“Matty [Mathieu Perreault] got us going with a big goal in the third period. And then [Quintin] Laing follows it up. I thought the Bradley-Steckel-Laing line was due to score the way they played all night, just getting pucks to the net. Stecks [David Steckel] was around the net all night. They just kept going and got another big goal. It’s a cliché, but it was a good team effort and it’s nice to see the scoring spread around,” added Laich about the two lines that scored within 40 seconds of each other to open the third period.
Sloan, who Boudreau mentioned was banged up heading into Saturday, was terrible in period two going -3 with Jurcina but he did get a plus in the third to finish -2. Jurcina was on for the final Florida goal and was a horror show -4. Hopefully Green can return to the lineup on Wednesday when the Caps face the Islanders at the Verizon Center.
Poti led the Caps in ice time with 24:34 and at forward Semin had the most with 19:10 of time, including 4:50 of power play time. #28 has to find a way to start producing and perhaps if his pal Ovechkin is back on Wednesday he can get going again?
For the first time in a long time Washington did not take a third period penalty, in fact, they only gave the Panthers two power plays and the second one was only 18 seconds long. The Caps are now 4-0 in Southeast Division play having beaten the Thrashers twice to go with this sweep of Florida. Boudreau was clearly happy with the third period effort, one of Washington’s best of the season.
“It goes to show, and I worked them pretty hard on Thursday, when you want to work, fatigue never is a factor. It is used as an excuse. We worked hard in the third period and the whole game, I thought…It’s all about the will, I believe. [The win] says we’ve got good players on this team. Both nights [Alexander] Semin didn’t get a point either. [Mike] Green and Ovi [Alex Ovechkin] are not in the lineup. It says something that these other players are good. People seem to forget that. We all know how good Alex [Ovechkin] and Mike [Green] and [Alexander] Semin are. And [Jeff] Schultz was playing very well for us. And how good a penalty killer [Boyd] Gordon is and stuff. But there’s a lot of depth on this team. You can throw Eric [Fehr] in and John Erskine in and they didn’t miss a beat,” finished Boudreau.
Michael Nylander was placed on waivers today and can be claimed by any team but they will have to pick up his large remaining contract ($5.5M this year and $3M next season). The significant thing about this development is that #92 was only able to be let go when he elected to waive his no movement clause. If noone claims him by Monday then Nylander can go elsewhere (such as Europe).
The Caps are off on Sunday and they next play on Wednesday against the Islanders, who they have split with in OT this season. New York lost one of their best defenseman, Radek Martinek, for the year when he tore his ACL in Friday night’s game against New Jersey. The Islanders (6-6-5) have been playing well lately and they blasted Atlanta, 6-3, on Saturday night. I have seen them play numerous times this year and they bring it under Coach Scott Gordon, and they have some firepower now with rookie sensation John Tavares (1st overall pick in 2009 NHL Entry Draft) leading the way offensively. The Martinek loss is a big one but the Caps will have to work hard, like they did in the third period tonight, to come out on top.