The Washington Capitals have the best power play in the National Hockey League, but on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center, it was the single biggest reason they lost to the Florida Panthers, 5-2, in a game they dominated at even strength.
Coming out of the NHL All Star break the Caps looked strong early on putting lots of shots towards the Florida net, but either Al Montoya (36 saves) stopped the puck or Washington missed the net. Starting at 5:51 of that opening frame, the Panthers would take five penalties to three for the Capitals. That set up a special teams battle and a club that is typically excellent on those occasions was flat out awful in this one. The Caps, without Alexander Ovechkin, who was suspended by the clowns in New York who run the league because he took an All Star Game off due to injury, squandered two five on three opportunities by taking bad offensive zone penalties. Those infractions were both of the lazy and not moving your feet variety.
Just past the 10 minute mark of period one, the Caps turned the puck over in the offensive zone and Jaromir Jagr outworked Brooks Laich for the biscuit in the Washington defensive zone. The long haired freaky person then fed Jonathan Huberdeau, who was parked in the slot between Taylor Chorney and Dmitry Orlov, for an easy one in front of Philipp Grubauer (14 saves).
That goal was the first deflator as Washington had carried the play up to that point, but due to Montoya, some missed quality chances, and a bad back check and defensive zone coverage they trailed, 1-0.
Just over four minutes later, the Panthers would quickly cash in on their five on three power play in easy fashion. It took all of 14 seconds for Nick Bjugstad and Huberdeau to feed Alexsander Barkov for a simple back door goal to make it 2-0.
After 20 minutes, there was still some hope for Washington, but then Grubauer gave up the softest goal allowed by a Caps net minder all season on a bad angle, short side shot to Vincent Trocheck. That made it 3-0 and the air totally came out of the Capitals and the Verizon Center.
Washington would continue to get shots and man advantages, but at the end of 40 minutes, they had eight power plays and no goals. They clearly missed their captain as T.J. Oshie assumed the Ovi position and struggled, failing to get his shot off quickly. Simply put, #77 in that spot was a bad fit.
Huberdeau, who was easily the best player in the game, made it 4-0 on the power play with 4:50 to go in period two to pretty much decide the outcome of this tilt.
The Caps did get two quick early goals in period three with Evgeny Kuznetsov setting up both markers (Nicklas Backstrom and Andre Burakovsky), but they could get no closer. They have now lost two straight games for the just the second time this season (h/t to the Caps Mike Vogel), but each time one of those losses has been after regulation has ended.
Florida certainly has had the Caps number these last two games. They are big and do a good job of keeping the Capitals on the perimeter. If Washington is to face them in the playoffs, it would have to be in the Eastern Conference Finals, because I don’t see the Cats finishing lower than third in the Atlantic Division. Florida is just too good and with stud 19 year old defensemen Aaron Ekblad in the lineup they’ve won 16 straight games. If Ovechkin had played, the Capitals likely score with the man advantage early and this is probably a different game, but that’s hockey.
Overall for the Caps, there were things to like in this one. They dominated possession outshooting the Panthers 65-30 in shot attempts and 38-19 in shots on goal. But the Capitals have to do a better job of being more physical in front of the Cats goalie. They didn’t get bodies there enough to disrupt Montoya, who was in the zone against Washington, once again.
Andre Burakovsky had another strong outing and he had 10 shots on goal. He easily could have had more than 1 tally.
So the Caps fall to 35-9-4 and will face the New York Islanders on Thursday night at the Verizon Center. Ovechkin will be back and Braden Holtby will get the net. Unfortunately, Marcus Johansson, who was hurt in the Flyers game when suffering an upper body injury, did not practice on Monday so he is doubtful for the Isles game. Jojo is really needed back to fill that third line center role and help carry the puck in on the second power play unit.
But injuries are a part of the game and the Caps need to stop this two game slide and get going. They will now play nearly every other night over the next 68 days so there are no more “we were rusty” excuses.
The grind has begun and the Capitals need to find their rhythm again.
Notes: Brooks Orpik skated on Tuesday and announced that his bone injury, which forced him to stay off of the ice for 8 weeks, is healed up and now he just needs to get in hockey condition. You can expect #44 back in 7 to 14 days…Jay Beagle has been skating and is about two weeks away with his hand injury…John Carlson looked good in his second game back logging 24:17 of ice time…Matt Niskanen, who struggled with the puck and had four shots blocked, led the Caps in ice time with 28:07…Chorney (-1) left the game with the flu and only played 4:34…Washington won the face off battle, 36-33. Backstrom was 14-10…the Caps only had 25 hits in the game (just 5 in the first period, although they had six minutes of power play time)…final special teams totals: Caps 0-8 on the PP in 12:00 and Florida 2-4 in 2:57. There’s your game, folks!