The Washington Capitals defeated Florida, 4-1, on Friday night in Sunrise to end the Panthers three game winning streak and more importantly, end the Caps three game winless drought. Jose Theodore (28 saves) was outstanding in goal, especially in the opening minutes when Florida was all over the Caps, and then Washington dominated this contest until the final 10 minutes when Shaone Morrisonn took a major penalty to give Florida some hope late.
The Caps played for the second straight game without the injured Alexander Ovechkin (left shoulder area) then they lost defenseman Mike Green to injury after hip checking Rotislav Olesz early in the first period and Jeff Schultz to an undisclosed injury in the middle period. The Green injury looked like either a hip or a lower back one. It was unclear when or what Schultz did to get hurt (Update courtesy of Tarik: Schultz has a lower body injury).
Washington came in facing a Florida team that had found its scoring punch during a season-high three-game winning streak, outscoring opponents 13-5, and the Panthers stormed the Caps net early, but Theodore, who was absolutely fantastic all evening, would not let the opponents get a lead. Then the Caps scored first on a beautiful passing play that involved five different players. Tomas Fleischmann made a good outlet pass to Brian Pothier in the neutral zone who slung it to Matthieu Perreault on the right wing boards. #85, who had another strong outing in just his second NHL game, hit the brakes inside the blue line and then sent a cross ice pass that was deftly deflected to Chris Clark by a streaking to the cage Pothier. From there the team captain left a nice drop pass to Tyler Sloan who scored his second goal of the season (two goals in two games now) by beating Tomas Vokoun. Vokoun came into this contest having shut out his last two opponents, so this tally was huge for the Caps at just 4:53 of the opening period.
Washington continued to carry much of the play and in the second period some hard work and nice passing led to goal number two. Mike Knuble worked hard behind the net forcing the Panthers to throw the puck at the point to Pothier. #2 passed the puck to Brooks Laich on the right wing boards, who sent it to Brendan Morrison in the slot, #9 faked Vokoun to the ice, and then snapped the puck top shelf at 10:46.
The Caps headed to the third period with a two goal lead and this season they have not done well in that capacity typically taking lazy penalties to allow opponents back into the game. Washington, in fact, was 29th in the NHL in goals allowed in the third period before tonight. However, the Caps played solid and when they received a power play just 5:16 into the contest they put Florida behind the 8-ball as Pothier (1 goal, 2 assists) blasted a rocket by Vokoun to make it 3-0.
Florida appeared to be out of it but they kept pressing and when Morrison took the Caps first penalty of the night at 9:27, the Panthers made Washington pay 61 seconds later when Nathan Horton tapped in a deflected point shot to make it 3-1. Things then got very hairy for Washington as Morrisonn took a five minute boarding penalty at 11:42 and suddenly a game that looked over was now in doubt. But Washington did not allow Florida to get a shot on goal during the extended power play and when Morrison scored his second goal of the night into an empty night this game was offically over.
Here is the post game analysis, including some quotes from Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau:
Boudreau skated the Caps hard in practice yesterday as punishment for taking too many dumb penalties and the team got the message staying out of the box until the last 10 minutes. Washington’s ability to kill that five minute major was outstanding, according to Boudreau, as was the overall effort without some big names.
“When we killed the five minute one, it was as good as we can play penalty killing wise. We just rolled three sets [of forwards] and the defense were just fabulous all night in a gutsy, gutsy effort,” commented Boudreau on the win.
Sloan was terrific tonight and I bet Boudreau didn’t like having to move him back to defense because he and Perreault had some great chemistry going together up front. But Sloan is a defenseman and his performance tonight was critical for the Caps.
“His skating and everything, he did a great job. When you got a guy that can play forward one period and hasn’t played defense in three weeks and go back and do just as good a job and he blocked shots and he got hurt there for a minute there and I thought we were down to three defensemen, and he came back and gutted it out, he will be pretty sore tomorrow. It was quite an effort,” said the head coach on #89’s play in Florida.
Not to be outdone and taking advantage of an opportunity was Pothier, who had been scratched in Thursday night’s game in New Jersey.
“That was Brian’s best game of the year and that is what he is good at, jumping into the play and making plays and especially when Mike [Green] goes out in the first five minutes of the game to have another mobile defenseman and have Brian step up and do that – I thought that was great,” added Boudreau on #2.
Washington was great at puck support tonight and playing well away from the biscuit. I thought it was the Caps best performance all season at those two facets of the game. The Caps forwards and defenseman took time and space away from the Panthers. When Boudreau and his assistants finally get a chance to look at the video of this one they are going to like a lot of it and be able to use it to show proper technique in many situations.
Did I already mention that Theodore was really good, because he was? #60 gave the Caps a performance they absolutley had to have in goal on Friday. He stopped Olesz on a breakaway in the second period as well as making several other good saves. Hopefully Theo can now string together back to back top notch starts, whether he plays on Saturday or on Wednesday against the Islanders (Verizon Center, 7pm).
Tom Poti, because of the injuries, logged 28:42 of ice time and was so solid you hardly noticed him. Great performance by #3 on Friday after some recent shaky outings.
Tomas Fleischmann is really playing well creating scoring opportunities on several of his shifts. #14 was also solid in his own end. Fleischmann led all Caps forwards with 19:43 of ice time, which is proof that Boudreau has an increasing level of confidence in him.
Alexander Semin…hmmmm. I am not sure what is with this guy. He started the game somewhat strong getting a semi-breakaway then disappeared. Bottom line: he is just too much finese right now routinely trying to skate around guys and waiting for the perfect shot to pull the trigger. While he did not take any penalties, #28 needs to simplify his game by not making so many offensive zone turnovers. Either shooting more or just dumping the puck deep would be the smarter plays these days. I expected more out of him and Nicklas Backstrom with Ovechkin out and they haven’t produced. I’m putting most of the blame on that on Semin but #19 is certainly missing #8 too.
On defense, Morrisonn was playing what I thought was his best game of the year too until the major penalty and #26 may be suspended since he received two boarding majors last year, so he was basically on probation according to Boudreau.
“We got a letter at the start of the year that he had to go 15 or 20 games [without a major for boarding]. I’ll find out when I get on the phone with George [McPhee],” finished Boudreau on #26
The Caps, who are now 9-3-4, have to fly back from Florida and take on the Panthers at the Verizon Center again on Saturday night. With Green and Schultz hurt, plus the Morrisonn possible suspension situation, the defensive line-up is in question for that contest. Defenseman John Erskine, who was scratched on Friday but is battling a bad hand, could play or the Caps could recall Karl Alzner and/or John Carlson from Hershey. The salary cap will also likely play a role in this decision as Washington is close to the max and calling up #27 is likely a pricier option.
“We got a basic hospital in there right now. I’ll find out on the plane whether he can or can’t go, obviously when you have a guy of Mike Green’s caliber you want him to play,” finished Boudreau.