(Photo credit: Cheryl Nichols/Caps News Network)
“Must-win game” has been used to describe so many Washington Capitals games this season that it’s lost its meaning. Sunday in Sunrise, the Caps met with the Florida Panthers with a chance to take over the Southeast Division lead for the first time in a while. The second line of Brooks Laich, Jason Arnott and Alexander Semin, which had instant chemistry this week, couldn’t get off one shot in regulation. Yet, it was Semin’s first and only shot of the game that mattered most in a 3-2 overtime win over the Panthers that saw Washington win its NHL-leading 19th game when trailing first. The Caps are now 2-1-1 against the Panthers this season, which isn’t as good as a six-game sweep last season, but it’s worked 50% of the time, every time.
- The Caps committed six penalties and killed five of them. That doesn’t really mean that much, considering that at least three of those penalties came in such awful ways. John Carlson took a cross-checking minor after Steve Bernier dropped him with a clean hit. Then, John Erskine tripped Keaton Ellerby while trying to stop him behind the net with less than four minutes left. And when the Caps needed to kill a penalty the most, Dennis Wideman slashed Dmitry Kulikov’s stick in half. Down two defensemen, the Caps could not prevent David Booth from tying the game on the ensuing 5-on-3. The Caps have now allowed four two-man advantage goals in 13 chances, with the Panthers picking up three of them. In fact, Washington has surrendered five of Florida’s 31 power play goals this season (16.1%). Dumb, untimely penalties need to stop before the playoffs next month. Even with a top-rated penalty kill, the Caps can’t afford to give up so many chances.
- What did work well, however, was the cycling game. The Caps scored both of their goals by sustaining pressure in the offensive zone. There was one offensive spurt in the second period that saw the Caps pin the Panthers in their zone for what seemed like several minutes, leading to a great chance by Matt Hendricks and an icing call that didn’t let the Panthers change their lines. A lack of goal scoring isn’t necessarily a bad thing; the Caps are playing playoff hockey. And just in time.
- It was a quiet night for the new guys. Marco Sturm, Wideman and Arnott combined for three shots on goal. Wideman, however, made his presence felt in the worst way; his turnover, which led to a 2-on-1 goal for Bill Thomas, looked more like a pass to his former teammates (perhaps he was confused? It has only been six days). The aforementioned slash to Kulikov’s stick also didn’t help. After a hot start to their first two games, the first road game for the newest Caps was a bit of a stinker.
- The Caps have a four-game winning streak for the first time since November 24-December 1. Thanksgiving seems to be a common theme in Washington streaks. When Semin scored his first goal against the Anaheim Ducks February 16, it was his first since November 26. When the Caps beat the St. Louis Blues Thursday, it was their first set of back-to-back wins at Verizon Center since November 26-28. Maybe the food coma is just now wearing off.
The Southeast Division is the Caps’ to enjoy. For one night. Monday, Washington heads to Tampa Bay to take on the Lightning with first place on the line again. It is nice to see the Caps on top of the standings for a change. It definitely doesn’t smell like pure gasoline or a used diaper filled with Indian food.