Besides two desperately needed points, Tuesday night's improbable comeback against the Bruins provided the Caps with something they hadn't had all that much of in 2013: confidence. In the wake of that emotional victory, and facing an injury-depleted "division rival" that they'd already embarrassed twice in the first half of the season, the big question was whether or not the Caps would be able to maintain the high level of play that keyed the win over Boston (and had been present for most of the previous five games with the exception of the Philly debacle) when they hosted Florida on Thursday night. The answer? A solid "yes," with a bit of "well, they didn't really need to" en route to a 7-1 win at Verizon Center.
Ten more notes on the game:
- This one was over after 1:58 of the first period, when a John Erskine blast from the blueline - the Caps' first shot on goal of the game - somehow trickled through Jacob Markstrom and into the net. As you know, the Caps haven't lost a single regular season game when Erskine scores a goal for them. In fact, no NHL team has. Thursday night's goal ran that Caps record to 11-0-0 and his personal mark to 14-0-0.
- Markstrom didn't have much better luck on the second shot he faced, a wrap-around attempt by Wojtek Wolski that slid under the Swedish netminder (and gave Steve Oleksy his second NHL point). The goal gave Wolski goals in back-to-back games. Who could've seen that coming? I mean, other than anyone who pays attention to averages and regressions to them. And out came the Vaudeville hook for Markstrom.
- In came Scott Clemmensen, who made three saves (Bronx cheer)... before getting beaten by a John Carlson shot from Union Station or thereabouts. It was the second time in the last five games that Big John and Not-as-Big John scored in the same game.
- Two-and-a-half minutes later, Alex Ovechkin fed Mike Ribeiro from below the goal line and the Caps' leading scorer made it 4-0. At that point, the Caps had outscored their two opponents 8-0 in the previous 56 minutes or so of hockey. Even more impressive, the Caps had outscored the Panthers 7-0 in the previous 13:49 they'd played (dating back to that late rally in Sunrise). The Caps sure are going to miss this division.
- From that point on, the game was largely on cruise control until Tyson Strachan blindsided Jason Chimera midway through the game and was given a five-minute major for interference and a game misconduct. Chimera would return to the bench during the ensuing power play, and the Caps added another goal to their lead, an Ovechkin strike that game him his third point of the game and 20th of the season. It also marked yet another multi-point game for Ribeiro, and matched Backstrom's helper on the Carlson tally, giving each of the team's top-two pivots 18 assists on the campaign.
- It's easy to overlook the winning goalie in a romp, but Braden Holtby was quite good all night, particularly in the second period. He's now 8-3-0/2.08/.935 in his 11-straight starts. I've got a shiny nickel that says he starts both games this weekend (despite Adam Oates stating that he would like to get Michal Neuvirth a start).
Eric Fehr's sixth goal of the season came on an early third-period power play and gave Ribeiro his third point of the night (and Wolski's second). More importantly, it was the pizza goal.
- After a Jack Skille goal snapped Holtby's shutout bid, the Caps thought they had restored their six-goal lead (the most-dangerous lead in hockey, if I recall correctly) via a Matt Hendricks goal, but it was determined that he kicked it in... which is fine - save up the good instant replay karma for when you need it, boys.
- If you like fancy icing on your cake, Mathieu Perreault delivered it for you, abusing some defenseman no one's ever heard of with a gorgeous one-on-one move before beating Clemmensen up high. The extra point is up... and it's good.
- Seriously, though, what are the chances that a team is going to have near double-digit injuries and yet Tomas Fleischmann is healthy? (He played. I know you didn't notice him. Just trust me on this one.)
Not much has come easy for the Caps this season. And while this game most certainly did, the next one almost as certainly won't. The margin for error remains minimal, but as long as the Caps keep playing within those margins... you never know.