"You want to make it uncomfortable for them right away. You want to make them go: 'Aw geez, here we go again.'"
That was Brooks Laich earlier today. With that mindset, you'd have expected the Caps to start strong. Instead, facing a team playing its second game in two nights - and fifth in seven nights - and starting its backup goalie, the Caps failed to register a single shot on goal from inside the Florida zone until the 13:14 mark of the first period, and found themselves tied at one after forty minutes.
But by the time the third period rolled around, the Panthers' brutal schedule appeared to have caught up with them and the Caps got a pair of goals from two of their superstars, enough to escape the night with a 3-2 win. It wasn't pretty, but it was two points.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Don't look now, but Mike Green has six points in his last six games, including a pair of power-play tallies. He was probably the Caps' best player on the night, scoring with the extra man and setting up the Caps' first marker on a beautiful turn around the net culminating in a wrap-around pass and an Eric Fehr tap-in.
- Speaking of Fehr, he now has three goals in the last three games. Alex Ovechkin? Three non-empty netters since December 5 (including his goal on Saturday night). Alexander Semin? Three since some time on November 26 (he had three against Tampa on that night, and one since). Nicklas Backstrom? Three since some time on November 24 (he had two against Carolina on the 24th and two since). Laich? Three since November 23. So yeah, the big guns (with the exception of Mike Knuble) aren't getting it done... but good on Fehr (who also added an assist on Saturday) for picking up the pace of late.
- Another strong start for Semyon Varlamov, who made 25 saves and now has allowed two goals or fewer in his last half-dozen starts (compiling a 4-0-2 record along the way). He wasn't as razor sharp as he has been, but he didn't necessarily need to be.
- Back to AO for a moment, who scored on a strong move down the left side, finished with a nice hard, low shot. If I didn't know better, I'd call it vintage Ovi.
- The penalty kill continues to dominate opposing power plays, and turned in a perfect four-for-four effort on Saturday night. The Caps have now killed 33 of 34 shorthanded chances over the last nine games. And how's this for a stat - 14 different skaters had more than a minute of PK time on Saturday night. That depth of penalty killers has to be a contributing factor to the success of the unit.
- The power play, on the other hand, continues to struggle, Green's goal notwithstanding. In 5:06 of power-play time, the Caps fired just two shots on goal, ended the night 1-for-3, and are now 6-for-61 in the last 15 games.
- Alex Semin appeared to take a hip-to-thigh hit late in the second period, returned for a shift later in that period, but didn't come out for the third.
- I'm not sure what Marcus Johansson was doing on the Panthers' first goal, but it wasn't "playing responsible defense."
- Much was made about the Caps' new line combinations coming into the game, but Bruce Boudreau returned to more familiar trios before too long. On the one hand, it was easy to scrap the new lines, which showed about as much chemistry as the Alumni Game units, but on the other hand, is it reasonable to expect much from lines that don't get a chance to play together more than a handful of shifts? Set 'em and forget 'em, Bruce.
- Great balance of ice time on the night, with Green leading the team at just 24:10 and only Ovechkin (20:33) above twenty minutes for the forwards.
So it's off to Florida where the Caps will face the last two teams they've faced... and hope to find a bit more offense. But at 6-0-2 over the last eight games, they must be doing something right. The problems - and there are some, maybe many - just don't seem as big when the team is winning, do they?