After winning their last three games, two in pretty impressive fashion and one by the skin of their teeth, it was time to head to South Florida for some Southeast nostalgia. And while the Panthers have been better of late, this was a team that the Caps should beat - which of course meant there was a very good chance they wouldn't, especially with Adam Oates advising his team not to take the Panthers lightly before the game even began.
Whether or not that's what they actually did is hard to say, but regardless, the Panthers had the better of the play for the majority of the game tonight - and the Caps saw their modest winning streak snapped by their former division rivals.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Mike Green scores a minute in - or "scores", more accurately, since it was immediately waved off for incidental contact by Martin Erat and/or Jason Chimera in front of the net. Yeah, let's go ahead and use the quotes on that, as well, because "incidental contact" seemed to be lacking in the contact department. The way things have been going for Green in terms of puck luck (and all-around luck), you really have to wonder if somewhere along the way he insulted a Greek god.
- The first half of the first period was a bit of a wild one all around. Between the waved-off goal (followed by another one minutes later that was negated by the quickest of whistles), a couple of posts and some end-to-end rushes, it looked like this was going to be a pretty exciting - and evenly-matched - affair...
- ...but then the second half of the period rolled around. And thus began a long stretch in which the Caps were wildly outshot (trailing 24-9 halfway through the game, 41-25 by the end of OT) and seemed utterly incapable of getting out of their own zone. Clearing attempt after clearing attempt went awry, pucks were bouncing over sticks, and by the time the Caps did clear the zone the players on the ice were so worn out that they needed to change. Hardly a recipe for success, and a big reason why the Caps ceded the first goal to the Panthers.
- Now if it's a game between the Caps and Panthers, you can probably assume that Erik Gudbranson is going to be involved - and not in a good way. Rewind to last season, Gudbranson was the one who hit Martin Erat from behind and took him out of the lineup until close to the end of the season. This time around, it was a dirty, high hit by Gudbranson on Eric Fehr (who thankfully would return in the third period). His punishment would consist of a well-meaning but perhaps ill-advised challenge to fight by Troy Brouwer and a game misconduct... for now.
- For the second straight game, it took seeing one of their teammates make his wobbly way off the ice to wake up the rest of the Caps (albeit temporarily), and once again the Caps made the other team pay - this time on a four-on-four play executed perfectly by both Mikhail Grabovski, who did some slippery good work along the boards, and Nicklas Backstrom, who collected the puck and fired it home despite three Florida defenders collapsing in on him. For those keeping track (and you are now), Backstrom has been on the ice for - and had a point on - the last seven Caps' goals. Oh, and he scored on the shootout even after flubbing the puck, so we need no further proof that he's actually some kind of magician.
- Mike Green really needed a bounceback game tonight. And early waved-off goal aside, he didn't really have one. He did, however, do this:
- When Joel Ward got the puck past Scott Clemmensen in the dying seconds of the second period, the Caps on the ice knew it was in. The people all the way up in the press box knew it was in. The fans at home knew it was in. And yet the guy standing right behind the net in the striped shirt and orange armband... no clue. That makes sense, right?
- Sometimes you get starting goalie vs. starting goalie. Sometimes it's starter vs. backup, or backup vs. backup. Tonight, though, was the rarely-seen phenomenon of backup's backup vs. backup's backup (aka third-string goalie battle of doom), with Tim Thomas and Michal Neuvirth ailing. And both did a commendable job, but it was Philipp Grubauer who really stood out - and he had to in order to keep this one close, turning aside a whopping 39 shots through overtime and regulation (and throwing in a couple of ten-bell saves in there for good measure).
- Up until the last week or two, the only thing to say about Dmitry Orlov was that he was getting very familiar with the roads between Hershey and DC. But he's worked his way up from what could have been a dire situation (mouthy agent and all) to be a very trusted piece of the Caps' youthful blue line. Tonight was his best game to date, as he showed off his skills in his own end and made some snazzy plays in the offensive end, as well - including a great chance that almost ended the game in the dying seconds of overtime.
- And because it's the Caps, 60 minutes wouldn't be enough for this one - to the shootout we would go, a team that has grown fat on shootout wins taking on the team that invented that particular method of fattening just a few short seasons ago. They traded goals, they traded crossbars, they traded saves... and in the 10th round, Tomas Kopecky finally put it away after some valiant work by Grubauer.
So the Caps came into Sunrise winners of their last three and found themselves outshot, outworked and outplayed for large portions of the game - and yet still managed to escape Florida with a point. Well-deserved? Probably not. But they don't ask whether you deserve 'em when they hand 'em out... so take that thing and run.