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It was not pretty, but there are no standings points for pretty in the NHL. The Caps won ugly on Saturday night and earned two points, beating the Florida Panthers, 2-1, in a game decided in the skills competition.
You would have thought that with the Panthers coming into DC early Saturday morning after a 1-0 win in Buffalo on Friday night and starting backup goaltender Al Montoya in his first start of the season, not to mention the fact that Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom was looking for his 500th point in his 500th NHL game, the Caps would have made short work of the Panthers.
Yeah, you'd have thought so.
The Caps stifled the Panthers over 40 minutes, and a sweet goal late in the first period by Jason Chimera looked as if it would hold up as the game's only tally. The Caps took an early penalty in the third period, though, and Brad Boyes made the Caps pay to tie the game. That would do it for the usual hockey portion of the show. In the shootout, the Caps got goals from Evgeny Kuznetsov, Backstrom, and Alex Ovechkin to grab the extra standings point and send Caps fans out of Verizon Center in a happy frame of mind.
Ten more notes on the game:
- How about that goal, eh? The Capitals' lone goal was an example of three guys who have played together and who know where the others are on the ice. When Joel Ward took Brooks Orpik's down the wall pass behind the Florida net he turned and in one motion chipped a pass off the end boards to Eric Fehr. Backing into the corner to give himself time and space, Fehr waited for Chimera to get to the net from the weak side and threaded a pass to him. After that, it was Chimera on Montoya, and the goalie had no chance.
- "Smothering Defense" is not the name of an indie band, but it described the Caps in the first 40 minutes. Over the first two periods the Caps held the Panthers to 23 total shot attempts while getting 41 of their own. They held the Panthers to no shots on goal in 4:07 of power play time. Ah, but that third period and overtime. Florida had a 27-16 edge in shot attempts overall (the odd part of that is that the Panthers had only nine shots on goal; they had 12 shots blocked).
- With five minutes left in the third period, Brooks Laich and Shawn Thornton collided in open ice. Laich absorbed the hit in an awkward fashion and appeared that he might have reinjured his groin or perhaps a knee. He immediately headed off the ice and went down the tunnel without a limp. Coach Barry Trotz said after the game that it was an upper body injury.
- The Caps went 3-for-3 in the shootout, making them 5-for-11 in shooting so far this season in the freestyle competition. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin notched their first goals of the season in that phase. Kuznetsov is 4-for-9 in his brief career experience in the shootout.
- Al Montoya gave up some tasty rebounds from time to time, but he fought through them to have a fine game for Florida. He has allowed only one goal on 38 shots in 102 minutes of play so far.
- The Caps allowed only 21 shots on goal in this game, making it five straight games allowing fewer than 30 shots on goal. Factor in that the Caps have played in three 65-minute games, and they are allowing only 23.8 shots per 60 minutes. Last year the Caps did not have their fifth game with fewer than 30 shots until Game 33.
- More evidence of the ice tilted in favor of the Caps. There were 25 faceoffs in the Caps' offensive zone (14 wins), only 15 in the defensive zone (10 wins). The Caps, who came into the game with just a 45.0 percent faceoff winning percentage, won 41 of 63 draws overall (65.1 percent).
- Andre Burakovsky saw his points streak to open his career end at four games. Not that he didn't impress, though. With less than nine minutes left in the third period he unleashed a shot off a sneaky fast release that handcuffed Montoya and popped into the air. He has not recorded a lot of shots on goal over his first five games (seven overall), but he picks his spots and looks like quite a sniper.
- Jason Chimera had a full night. A goal, five shots on goal (team leader), three hits, two takeaways, a blocked shot, 1-for-2 on draws, and a retaliation penalty he took in the third period less than a minute after the Florida goal that Barry Trotz said after the game could have stapled him to the bench for the rest of the contest... until he drew a penalty right after he came out of the box after serving his two minutes to give the Caps their only full two-minute power play of the evening.
- Nicklas Backstrom came up short on his attempt to record his 500th point in his 500th game. However, he did show why Trotz is so effusive about other elements of Backstrom's game. He recorded three shots on goal, won 15 of 21 draws (71.4 percent), and was not on ice for a Panther goal in his 20:33 of ice time.
In case you missed it, this makes ten straight games in which the Caps have earned a standings point dating back to last season (7-0-3). Of more relevant importance, the win lifts the Caps into a virtual tie with the New York Islanders for the Metropolitan Division lead and just two points behind the Montreal Canadiens for the Eastern Conference top spot. They are the last team in the East not to have lost a game in regulation time. This might have been an ugly game, but the Caps are sitting pretty as they head off to the Canadian west for three games next week.