While the 2013 Washington Capitals have yet to demonstrate that they're anything close to the dominant home-ice team that they've been for the better part of the last five seasons, they've been downright horrendous away from the red-drenched confines of Verizon Center, entering Tuesday night's game in Sunrise having been outscored 20-11 en route to an 0-4-1 record on the road. And despite being desperate as desperate gets, the Caps looked less like the team that throttled these same Panthers to the tune of 5-0 on Saturday night, and more like the club that was still looking for its first road win nearly a month into the season.
Keyword there - "was," as a late rally forced overtime, and an early goal ended it once there. Victory. On the road. For the Caps. 6-5.
Ten more notes on the game:
- With the game just over a minute old, Alex Ovechkin locked his sites on Florida's Kris Versteeg, who was corralling the puck in the corner. As Ovechkin closed, Versteeg moved the puck up the boards, turned his back to the pursuing wing... and got crunched. Ovechkin got some shoulder, some back, but Versteeg put himself in a bad position and paid for it. He left the ice in some discomfort, and upon returning, instigated a tussle with the Caps' captain. Two minutes each for roughing, and an extra two to Versteeg for making a bad play and then compounding it.
- On the ensuing power-play, Tomas Kundratek was sent out in Ovechkin's place and had a solid shift there even before weaving through a couple of Kitties and tapping a pass to Mike Ribeiro who made no mistake about it, staking the Caps to a 1-0 lead. Okay, "made no mistake about it" isn't completely accurate, as Ribeiro partially whiffed on the shot, sending the puck fluttering past Scott Clemmensen. Another power-play goal for the Caps, and yet another power-play point for the straw who's stirred that drink so far this season.
- A few minutes later, an Ovechkin mistake (trying to clear the puck up the middle of the ice rather than going up the boards to get it out of the defensive zone), and a spinning Tomas Fleischmann shot ricocheted off John Erskine's boot and past Braden Holtby. Bad break, perhaps, but it never happens if Ovechkin makes the safe play at the top of his defensive zone.
- Not 20 seconds later, the usually sure-handed Holtby played a puck off the rink and the dreaded delay of game penalty reared its ugly head yet again for the Caps. The Caps killed off the penalty, but gave up another goal soon thereafter as they scrambled for coverage in their zone, and their early momentum clearly had shifted to the other side - after having a 5-1 lead in shots on goal five minutes in, they ended the period down 14-6 (at one point going 12:26 without a shot... that'll look good on the ol' Fenwick Timeline).
- Five-and-a-half minutes into the middle stanza, the third line was on for an offensive-zone draw (hmm..), which was taken by Joel Ward (huh?) and won back to the point (cool) where Karl Alzner fired off a rocket that beat Clemmensen (wha?!). It was Alzner's first goal since October 27, 2011, Ward's eighth faceoff win of the year (in his 17th draw), and another two points for that clickin' third line (Eric Fehr got the primary assist).
- The tie would not last long, however, as Peter Mueller put the Panthers back into the lead. But because Mueller's hair is the absolute worst, they changed the goal and gave it to Jonathan Huberdeau.
- The Caps answered the go-ahead goal when first-liner Matt Hendricks converted an Ovechkin feed. You read that right. The secondary assist on that tally went to Ribeiro, who now has six multi-point games - and just three scoreless games - on the season, and a five-game point streak.
- Ovechkin nearly netted one of his own when he rang one off the crossbar late in the period, and while plenty were still wondering whether or not that blast had gone in (it hadn't), one did at the other end, with poor defensive-zone coverage to blame once more.
- The Cats pushed their lead to 5-3, but then something surprising happened... the Caps rallied. First, Fehr deftly redirected a Mike Green shot/pass, then an Ovechkin power-play goal tied it with 2:49 left (Ribeiro's third point of the night). Hell, they even killed off a late Mathieu Perreault penalty to get to overtime.
- Thirty-two seconds into OT, Nicklas Backstrom sprung Troy Brouwer on a breakaway and a couple of whacks later, the Caps were heading to Tampa with two points. Can't say enough about the pass. Or the finish.
It's far too early to talk about turning points in a season that already looks all but lost - this was a flawed victory over a flawed opponent. But these two games against Florida, if nothing else, have given the Caps something they've lacked early on - confidence. And wins. A few more and... well, let's wait until then.