Ovechkin Overpowering – The Capitals got three power play goals and an Alex Ovechkin hat trick to take a 4-3 road win from the Panthers in South Florida on Saturday night. Because of Winnipeg’s Saturday afternoon win over the Flyers, the Caps needed to take two points from the Panthers to maintain their tenuous hold on the top spot in the Southeast Division standings.
The Caps looked a little sluggish early, but utilized their power play to take a 1-0 lead at 15:45 of the first. Florida’s Erik Gudbranson was given a five-minute major for boarding and a game misconduct for hammering Washington winger Martin Erat from behind at 14:37 of the first. Ovechkin converted a nifty feed from Mike Ribeiro to score a back door goal that gave the Caps a lead they would not relinquish.
Washington threatened for more during the life of the Gudbranson major, but did not score. Caps forward Marcus Johansson drew a hooking call on rookie Florida center Quinton Howden in the waning seconds of the first, and the Caps scored the first of three second-period goals on the carry-over portion of that man advantage.
Mike Green’s shot from the right point clanged off the left post, and Ribeiro quickly recovered the rebound and tucked it under Florida goalie Jacob Markstrom to make it 2-0.
Ovechkin’s second goal of the game came less than two minutes later, and it was a beauty. He took a feed from Nicklas Backstrom and blazed down the right side, worked the puck around Florida blueliner Filip Kuba and then snapped a sharp wrist shot short side glove side over Markstrom’s shoulder.
The Caps’ captain completed the hat trick at 14:22 of the middle frame when he converted a tic-tac-toe passing play to make it a 4-0 game. Backstrom and Johansson supplied the helpers.
Washington sat back a bit in the third period, and the Panthers nudged the door open a bit with a pair of goals less than two minutes apart. Tomas Kopecky took a nice backhand feed from ex-Cap Tomas Fleischmann and beat Caps goalie Braden Holtby at 6:45 of the third to spoil the shutout bid. Cats forward Peter Mueller scored on a power play at 8:29 to make it a 4-2 game.
Florida further tightened the screws on the Caps when Kopecky scored again with Markstrom pulled for an extra attacker in the final minute, but Washington weathered the storm and got the two points it needed.
“It’s one of those things where you get a four-goal lead and it’s really hard to play,” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “Obviously everything was going our way and clicking. I really thought that even though they scored, I didn’t detect any panic on the bench. They were fine. You don’t want to see that happen because you don’t want to plant any seeds. I think the guys were good.”
Saturday’s game marks the first time Washington has erupted for three power play goals in a game since it went 3-for-4 with the extra man in a 5-3 win over the Red Wings on March 19, 2012 in Detroit.
With three weeks remaining in the regular season, the Caps and Jets are tied atop the Southeast Division with 40 points each. Washington has 10 games remaining while Winnipeg has only eight.
“We know where we stand right now and how important these wins are for us,” says Green. “We’re where we want to be right now and we’ve got to stay there.”
Road Hot – Washington is now 6-0-1 in its last seven road games and it owns its longest streak of games with at least a point on the road since it finished the 2009-10 road slate with a 6-0-3 mark from Feb. 13-April 6, 2010.
The Caps won eight straight Southeast Division road games to wind up the season. They were 8-1 on the road against Southeast Division foes in 2012-13, with the lone loss coming on opening night, a 6-3 setback to the Lightning in Tampa Bay.
Hats Off – Ovechkin’s hat trick is his second of the season and the 12th of his NHL career. Ovechkin trails Mike Gartner (13) by one for second place on Washington’s all-time hat trick ledger. Peter Bondra holds the franchise mark with 19.
Helping Hands – Backstrom had three assists on the night and now has 33 helpers in 38 games on the season. He now ranks third in the league in that category. The sublime centerman now has eight assists in his last three games and is one shy of 300 for his NHL career.
Dennis Wideman led Washington in assists last season with 35
in 82 games; Backstrom is a mere two helpers away from matching that figure.
Backstrom will become the 10th player ever to record as many as 300 assists in a Capitals sweater when he records his next one. Michal Pivonka holds the all-time franchise mark with 418 (in 825 games).
Climbing The Ladder – Ovechkin now has 23 goals on the season, tied for second in the league and just two off the pace being set by Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos.
Holtby has 17 wins this season, tied for fifth in the league and just two off the league lead.
Scoring Spread – A dozen different Washington players found the back of the net in the four games against Florida this season, and 18 different Capitals recorded at least one point against the Panthers in 2012-13.
Special Delivery – Washington wore out the Panthers on the power play in the four-game season series between the two clubs in 2012-13. The Caps cashed in on eight of 13 (61.5%) man advantage opportunities against Florida this season, scoring at least one extra-man marker in each of the four games.
“It’s nice,” says Green of the Caps’ power play dominance. “We had a lot of opportunities tonight. We felt like we exposed their [penalty killing] unit. We tried to make sure that we were moving pucks well. Nick and [Ribeiro] were making great passes. Of course, Ovi juts needs to bury them.”
The Caps were strong on the penalty kill in those four contests, too. Mueller’s power play goal on Saturday was the only one Washington allowed in 11 extra-man chances (kill rate: 90.9%) for the Panthers in the four games between the two clubs.
Powering Up – Ovechkin’s two power play goals in Saturday’s
game give him 14 for the season, surpassing his total of 13 from the entire
82-game campaign of 2012-13. The last time Ovechkin had more power play goals
in a season was when he netted 19 in 2008-09. His career high is 22 in 2007-08.
Saturday Night Special – Holtby continued his Saturday night dominance. He is now 8-1-1 with three shutouts, a 1.78 GAA and a .938 save pct. in 10 career Saturday night starts.
In Saturday’s game, Florida’s fourth line created a strong early scoring chance when Howden threaded a pass from the left wing corner to Scott Timmins at the far post, but Holtby slid across to deny the chance with an excellent display of lateral movement. The stop was similar to one Holtby made on ex-Caps teammate Keith Aucoin on Thursday night against the Islanders.
“It seems to be a popular play right now,” says Holtby. “Obviously we’re scoring every game on it. It’s a hard play to defend, especially if you’re a defenseman in front because you don’t want it to go off you and in. It’s a very hard play to defend. I’m just trying to read it as best as I can.”
The save was important; Florida is 10-3-2 this season when scoring the game’s first goal and the game was still 0-0 at the time of the stop. The Panthers are 2-17-4 when they allow the game’s first goal in 2012-13.
The 700 Club – Caps left wing Jason Chimera skated in the 700th game of his NHL career on Saturday against the Panthers. He has played the last 239 of those contests in a Capitals sweater.
Chimera came back into the Caps’ lineup on Saturday after being a healthy scratch in the team’s 2-1 shootout win over the Islanders on Thursday at Verizon Center. That scratch ended a streak of 123 consecutive games played for Chimera.
Chimera dropped the gloves with Florida defenseman Tyson Strachan early in Saturday’s game, no doubt seeking a measure of retribution for Strachan’s elbow to Chimera’s head in the March 7 game between the two teams at Verizon Center.
Chimera’s Saturday night scrap Strachan was the winger’s 28th career regular season fight in the NHL. In his first visit to Florida as a member of the Caps on Jan. 13, 2010, Chimera had a Gordie Howe hat trick against the Panthers, fighting then-Panther Gregory Campbell in that game.
Chimera made his NHL debut on Dec. 9, 2000 while skating with his hometown Edmonton Oilers against the Los Angeles Kings. During the 2003-04 season, Chimera was a teammate of Oates with the Oilers.
Men Down – The Caps played without forward Brooks Laich on Saturday. He left Thursday’s 2-1 shootout win over the Islanders and is termed as day-to-day with a lower body injury.
Newly acquired winger Erat occupied Laich’s spot on the left side of the second line on Saturday night, but he left the game late in the first after the aforementioned Gudbranson hit.
“That’s a pretty dangerous play,” says Oates of the hit that knocked Erat from the game.
Erat is also listed as day-to-day with a lower body injury.
End Of The (Southeast) Road – Every road game the Caps have ever played against the Panthers in South Florida has been a divisional match-up, and most of them have pitted a pair of Southeast Division denizens against one another. But Saturday night’s game at the BB&T Center ends that era. The two teams will be in different divisions starting in 2013-14.
“I was thinking about that [Friday] when I was walking around,” says Caps winger Eric Fehr, “that this probably isn’t going to happen a whole lot anymore. I obviously enjoy coming down to Florida; it’s always a little warmer than it is up in DC. We have had a little bit of success down here. It’s tough for us, but at the same time it’s time to move on and I look forward to next season when that happens.”
Washington posted a 21-16-2-2 road record against the Panthers during the existence of the Southeast Division.
Get The Abacus Out – Saturday night’s game marked the 22nd time in the last 34 meetings between the Capitals and Panthers that one or both of the two teams scored four or more goals in the game.
Down On the Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears started their weekend on a high note with a 4-1 road win over the Crunch in Syracuse on Friday night. The two teams met again on Saturday night at Giant Center with the Crunch taking this one by a 2-1 count.
Joey Crabb scored Hershey’s lone goal and Dany Sabourin made 19 saves in a losing effort. Nate Schmidt recorded his first pro point in his pro debut with an assist on Crabb’s goal.
Hershey finishes a busy weekend with a Sunday afternoon visit to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to face the Baby Pens.
With seven games remaining on the regular season schedule, the 33-27-3-6 Bears are tied for the eighth and final playoff berth in the AHL’s Eastern Conference standings with Norfolk, but Hershey holds a game in hand on the Admirals.
Down a level, the ECHL Reading Royals recorded their second shutout in as many nights over the Greenville Road Warriors, a 4-0 victory at Sovereign Center. The win gives Reading a 2-0 stranglehold in the best-of-five Kelly Cup playoff series between the two teams.
Alex Berry, Stanislav Galiev, Nikita Kashirsky and T.J. Syner scored for the Royals to support Riley Gill’s 27-save efforts in the Reading nets. Gill has stopped all 45 shots he has faced in the two games of the series to date.
Reading can close out the series with the Road Warriors on Wednesday when the series resumes in Greenville.
By The Numbers – Green led the Caps with 22:32 in ice time … Ovechkin, Eric Fehr and Mathieu Perreault paced the Caps with four shots on net each … Troy Brouwer and Matt Hendricks led the Capitals with four hits each … Brian Campbell led the Cats with 29:27 in ice time … Strachan and Dmitry Kulikov had four hits each to top the Panthers … Kulikov and Campbell each had three blocked shots on the night.Posted in: Sports