Evgeny Kuznetsov scored 3:44 into overtime and the Capitals rode the stellar goaltending of back up Philipp Grubauer to snatch a 2-1 victory against the Florida Panthers on Saturday night in Sunrise.
For the first time in 10 games this NHL season, the Caps found themselves in the extra session. With the rules modified in the off season to make the game three on three, vice four on four, it would be interesting to see how Coach Barry Trotz would play things. So instead of being immediately aggressive, Trotz started with two defensemen, Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner, and forward Nicklas Backstrom. That strategy paid off for the first shift before the Caps skill took over and the winning tally occurred with Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin, and Dmitry Orlov on the ice. On that game winner Kuzya adeptly broke to the net after both Florida defenders thought he’d drop the puck to the Gr8. #92 beat Cats goalie Al Montoya (25 saves) down low and Washington will now leave town on Monday afternoon, after a day off on the beach on Sunday, with a record of 8-2.
Let’s be honest, if this was last season and Justin Peters is in net, the Caps lose this game.
Grubauer (26 saves) was that good and if he doesn’t make several key stops throughout the game, including a breakaway in the second period when it was 1-0, Florida, the Caps lose in regulation. The German goalie was excellent against the Panthers and the Washington players have to feel really good to know that they can play that poorly and sloppily in stretches and still sneak out a victory.
It was far from a pretty win and the Panthers size and tenacity frustrated Washington most of the night. The Caps struggled to break out of their own zone effectively, often making poor decisions and bad passes. The best break outs were on skate outs, and Orlov was one of the better ones at doing that (RIP Adam Oates and his “get rid of the puck in five feet” mandate). It was so ugly that early in the second period, after Grubauer saved the Caps bacon once again, Coach Barry Trotz chewed his team a new one on the bench.
The Capitals would be better, at times, after that, but there were several guys who just didn’t have it on this night.
One player who brought his game in the third period and overtime was Ovechkin. The Gr8 was one of the few Capitals who was winning board battles and moving his feet. Ovi set up Jay Beagle’s game tying tally and his mere presence opened up a lane for Kuznetsov on the winning goal.
Beagle, despite two offensive zone penalties, was good too and earned extra ice time. In fact, it was Kuznetsov who saw his time cut in the third frame for #83. If not for Beagle, Ovechkin, and of course, Grubauer, Kuzya doesn’t get the chance to redeem himself for one of his poorer performances of the season, up until that point. But as they say, there is no substitute for skill, especially with the new regular season overtime rules!
Overall, the Caps went two and one this week despite playing very uneven hockey. But the mark of a good team is one that finds a way to win when it doesn’t have anywhere close to its “A” game. The Capitals brought their “C” game on Saturday, but thanks to Grubauer, they were able to endure and win in overtime.
After practice in Florida on Monday, it’s on to New York for a rematch with the Rangers. I’m sure the players haven’t forgotten the game seven overtime loss last spring. Washington had a series of bad clears and icings in that overtime which led to Derek Stepan’s series winner. Bad clears have crept back in to Washington’s game lately, hopefully they get that corrected in time for Tuesday, otherwise a New York team that is off to a 7-2-2 start will run the Capitals out of Madison Square Garden.
Notes: As bad as the Caps were on their breakouts, the Panthers only had 19 of their 27 shots on net at even strength (the Caps were 3 for 3 on the penalty kill allowing eight SOG). Washington turned the puck over a lot, but they did do a good job of limiting Panthers opportunities, especially rebounds. Brooks Orpik and the Caps blue liners were able to clear away any loose pucks around Grubauer. Most importantly, #31 didn’t allow many of those. He was razor sharp…the Caps out shot attempted the Cats, 48-44. 92 shot attempts in a game is not a lot and it shows how sloppy both teams were…the Capitals won the face off battle, 30-25. Backstrom was 13-9… John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 28:19 and Orpik was second with 24:37… Brooks Laich, Andre Burakovsky, and Chandler Stephenson all played less than 10 minutes…Orlov only logged 12:50 and Nate Schmidt played 10:39 as the third defensive pair. Basically, Coach Trotz rode three lines and two defensive pairs for most of this contest.