It was bound to happen sometime. Even as they have trudged through a horrid start the Washington Capitals believed they would find their offensive rhythm and put a complete game together eventually. It turns out that the perfect recipe was hosting a familiar foe they have recently dominated, and doing it on the day after holding a players-only meeting.
“It’s only one win, obviously we needed [it],” Capitals Coach Adam Oates said. “They get tomorrow off and then Monday we’ve got to go back to work. We play [Florida] again Tuesday and the games keep coming. Enjoy the moment and then get back to work.”
Goaltender Braden Holtby made key stops early and finished with 27 saves in the fourth shutout of his career, and his teammates provided ample support. The Capitals gave up only a handful of scoring chances and four players — Troy Brouwer twice, Joel Ward, Alex Ovechkin and Mathieu Perreault — scored to keep growing an initial first-period lead and chase Florida starter Jose Theodore from the opposing net.
That the thorough performance followed a meeting in which players “cleared the air” following the ugly 5-2 loss to Pittsburgh on Thursday and addressed what they expect out of each other is no coincidence.
“I think the time right now we just have to turn around. And that kind of game we need,” said Ovechkin, who recorded his first even-strength goal of the season. “Everybody was so focused today, like, we have a meeting for the guys and we just said, like, ‘Be focused, bring energy and do what you have to do best.’ It works and it starts with our goaltending and it starts with “D” and the forwards.”
It was a sleepy start in the first period by both teams as they traded turnovers with few quality opportunities. Arguably Florida’s best scoring chance of the night came less than nine minutes into the opening frame with the game still scoreless when Kris Versteeg raced down the right side on a two-on-one. He kept the puck for a shot that Holtby calmly snared in his glove for a save that Oates credited as crucial for Washington’s confidence.
“Great for Braden. He made the big save early for us, what we needed,” Oates said. “After that we didn’t give them much and scored some goals.”
With 17 minutes 45 seconds gone in the first Brouwer redirected a shot by John Carlson past Theodore, who stopped only 16 of the 21 shots he faced before being pulled in the third period, for a 1-0 edge. An early lead hasn’t been enough for the Capitals at all this season, as they had yet to win a game in which they scored first prior to Saturday’s victory, and the players knew they needed to build on the start.
Early in the second when Panthers tough guy George Parros went off for interference, the Capitals made it 2-0. Holtby, who never shies away from handling the puck, caught Florida in a line change and sent a silky smooth saucer pass up to Brouwer on the offensive blue line. Brouwer carried the puck in and boomed a slap shot into the top left corner 3:36 into the second.