With 48 games in 99 days, there’s not a lot of time to digest what happened in any single contest. So as we churn through this compressed Capitals season, I’ll be rounding up my thoughts and analysis of each game here. If you missed them last night, check out the game story from the 6-5 overtime thriller with a more on the comeback here.
>> The Capitals’ games in South Florida always tend to be a little unpredictable. Maybe it’s the abundance of sunshine and 80-degree temperatures in February that makes for strange hockey, but for one reason or another, the matchups between the Caps and Panthers here tend to be wacky.
There were awkward bounces, a brief tussle between Alex Ovechkin and Kris Versteeg, caroms off the partitions, tips, and more deflections than seemed possible.
“Every win’s important, and to stay with it for 60 minutes is something we talk about all the time,” Coach Adam Oates said. “And we saw it was going to be one of those kind of nights where goals were going in and just to stay with the program and fight through the mistakes, and they did it.”
Two Panthers goals – the first by Tomas Fleischmann and the fifth by Drew Shore – went off Washington defenseman John Erskine or his stick. Florida’s third goal came on a deflection by Jonathan Huberdeau, who was the second Panther to change the direction of Erik Gudbranson’s shot on its way to the net.
It wasn’t an easy night to be goaltenders Braden Holtby or Scott Clemmensen.
“It was really tough to swallow some of those goals against, just tough,” Eric Fehr said. “It’s tough ice and tough bounces. I feel for Holtsy in net; there’s not much you can do on a lot of those plays. It’s great for us to pick him up and get a win for him.”
>> Jason Chimera played a season-low 5:43 Tuesday night after starting the contest on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Mike Ribeiro. The veteran winger was on the ice for each of the Panthers’ first three goals against – by Fleischmann, Shawn Matthias and Huberdeau – two as a member of the top unit and the third after being demoted to the fourth line.
At the start of the second period, with the Capitals trailing 2-1, Oates knocked Chimera down to the fourth line and brought Matt Hendricks up to the first. Chimera took just four shifts in the final 40 minutes of play, and after Huberdeau’s first goal of the game at 8:47 of the second, he took just two more shifts, including one in the third for 37 seconds.
“I was looking for a spark, looking for something to change the line and you get a feel out there,” Oates said when asked about Chimera’s ice time. “I just didn’t feel he had his A-game tonight and, you know what, I made moves.”
>> Fehr, who scored his first goal of the season to kickstart the Capitals’ comeback, said something rather interesting when asked about the importance of the rally against Florida.
“I think it’s a confidence builder for us,” Fehr said. “It wasn’t the previous win but we were able to come back and that’s the old Caps team right there.”
The “old Caps team” he’s referring to is the group that found ways to win regardless of circumstance during its high-flying, fire-wagon hockey days under then-coach Bruce Boudreau. Quite a lot has changed since then, though.
The Capitals have gone through several systems, including one of defensive extremes under Dale Hunter and while the key pieces of the roster – Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green – remain much of the supporting cast has turned over.
So, does it really feel like the “old Caps”?
“Right now it does,” Fehr said. “We found a way to win a game and that’s what we’ve done in the past. It hasn’t always been the prettiest way, but we found different guys contributing and we found ways to win. We just got to keep going.”
Whether you agree with Fehr’s perspective or not, his point is well taken. Sure, the Capitals didn’t play perfectly, but as the last-place team in the NHL, they need to find ways to win ugly every now and then.
If Oates’s postgame mood was any indication, though, he’ll likely spend this day between games emphasizing the method, pointing out the Capitals’ mistakes and trying to ensure that bad habits don’t linger.
“I hope they understand that we can get plenty of goals. We’ve got to take care of our end,” Oates said. “We have the skill level to get goals. We have to take care of our end, and that’s the most important thing.”