Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth received his first start since the Christmas break but his outstanding play (37 saves) was not rewarded as the Caps took too many penalties that resulted in three power play goals for the Florida Panthers, who won, 4-3, in overtime at home on Tuesday night. Washington rallied from an early 3-0 deficit in this one, but their inability to convert on the power play, and their own penchant for heading to the box on this night, eventually cost them. Nonetheless, the point they picked up moves them to 24-12-7 and puts them in a tie with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Southeast Division with 55 points. On Wednesday evening the Caps and Bolts will face off in Tampa with the victor taking over the top spot in the division.
Here are the highlights and analysis of Washington’s first of six games on the road in the Sunshine State this season:
– I get it, the Southeast Division is better this year, but if you don’t show up in the first period, and the Capitals as a group collectively failed to move their feet in that opening stanza, you are going to make it easier for a less talented team to gain a victory. That is what happened on Tuesday as Washington was outshot 20-7 and fell behind 2-0 heading into the first intermission. The Nicklas Backstrom boarding penalty, after a questionable delayed infraction on Mike Knuble was being whistled, was a terrible one, although David Booth did a nice job of selling it. Florida scored on the ensuing 5 on 3 when Karl Alzner left his feet (bad move) to try and block the pass and Mike Santorelli banged it home from the doorstep. Santorelli has been very impressive in these two games between the two squads. That makes two games in a row that #19 has taken a bad boarding penalty and he needs to clean that up.
– The Panthers scored three power play goals but the improved Washington shorthanded unit was put in BAD spots on all three. The first two were 5 on 3 tallies and the third, the game winner in OT, was on a tougher to defend 4 on 3 marker. However, the Caps had that thing killed off until Matt Hendricks decided to try a fancy and stupid backhanded play up the right wing boards. The result was a turnover and disaster as the Panthers won the game just seconds later. That whole power play was set up by another bad backhanded play, that one coming from Mike Green, who for some crazy reason backhanded the puck right up the slot forcing #52 to then take down Corey Stillman as he was about to get a quality chance in front. Simply put, the Capitals were lazy on those plays and several others for getting rid of the puck on their backhand in dangerous situations. They should know better and I hope Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau goes through the tape tomorrow morning and shows his crew ALL of the lazy plays that allowed a less talented Panthers team to steal a victory.
– I said this a few games ago and I will say it again: Blow this power play configuration up! Simply put, the top skill guys for the Capitals are downright horrible with the man advantage because they do not want to work hard and simplify in those situations. Alex Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Green all want to continue to try and make the perfect play instead of getting the puck in the middle of the ice at the top of the point and blasting away. I watch game after game of other teams doing this, it is no secret how to score and Boudreau and assistant coach Dean Evason keep telling those guys to do what I am saying, but they aren’t listening. My opinion: Sit those guys on the bench and send out some guys who will shoot the puck and crash the net. You can’t get any worse results right now. Washington’s power play carded a big freaking donut hole on Tuesday in five chances. That is UNACCEPTABLE!
– On the positive side of the ledger, the team came back hard and gained a point, but it never should have been like that at all and the players can thank one guy, Neuvirth, for that point because it could have been worse than 3-0 at the game’s midpoint. Marcus Johansson (2 goals) had a super game as well using his speed to help get Washington back in this one. The night would have been perfect for #90 had he gotten more wood on a point blank shot from right in front of Tomas Vokoun (30 saves) in the last 10 minutes. MJ90 would have had a hat trick and the Caps would have likely stolen a victory but #29 got his glove on a shot that the young Swede would love another crack at.
Notes: The Caps have lost their last five contests that have gone to the extra session (three OT losses & two shootout defeats)…Alex Semin, who was hurt (lower body) in last Saturday’s game against Florida, did not make the two game road trip and Brian Willsie was recalled from Hershey. #24 had an assist in 6:15 of ice time…The Caps lost the faceoff battle, 34-32, and top draw man Dave Steckel was only 11-9. Many of the losses were at the beginning of special teams play giving the Panthers an advantage right off the bat in each of those situations (Backstrom was a pitiful 5-12 on faceoffs), allowing the Panthers to win the special teams play, 3-0…D-man John Erskine (-1 in 13:27) returned to the lineup in place of Tom Poti, who was deemed a healthy scratch, but healthy he ain’t, #3 is still trying to get his wheels back…Knuble had the Caps second tally on a super feed from the Great #8…Ovechkin and Green were announced as participants in the NHL All Star game today while goalie Braden Holtby, blue liner Lawrence Nycholat, and winger Andrew Gordon, all Caps players with the Hershey Bears, were named to the AHL all star squad.