Eight minutes, 10 seconds. That’s all the time it took for the Washington Capitals to set the red goal light ablaze and take control of their game Thursday night against the Florida Panthers at Verizon Center.
The Capitals scored four goals in that opening 8:10 — the second-fastest span to four goals to open a game in franchise history — and the start paved the way for a thorough 7-1 drubbing of an injury-ravaged Florida squad.
“Of course everybody happy, but we don’t jumping around,” said Alex Ovechkin, who was one of three players to record three points. “In that kind of game it was kind of easy.”
The Capitals improved to 10-11-1 with the win; their 21 points have them in 12th place, five points out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference and six behind Southeast-Division leading Carolina with a game in hand.
Seven players recorded a goal while 11 each recorded a point in a rout that was unlike any other Washington win, but one in which the result wasn’t exactly a surprise.
The Panthers, who now sit last in the NHL, entered as the only team in the conference with a worse record than Washington and missing seven regulars because of injury, including two top-line forwards and two of their top defensemen. Heading into the game, though, the Capitals didn’t want to focus on all the reason that they should beat Florida.
They can’t afford any semblance of complacency, not with every point crucial in their effort to move up the standings. When the pucks started flooding the back of the net in the first period, the message was to stay the course and focus on the system rather than let up, which can be so easy to do after racking up a significant lead.
“Our concentration is there, our desire’s there,” said Troy Brouwer, who recorded a pair of assists. “Guys know that we need to get points here no matter what the situation is.”
The rout began when defenseman John Erskine teed up a slap shot as he crossed the offensive blue line. It should have been a harmless, routine shot but it trickled underneath the arm of Florida starter Jacob Markstrom to make it 1-0 just 1:58 into the contest. Wojek Wolski scored on a wrap-around 72 seconds later for a sudden 2-0 lead on the Capitals’ first two shots of the game.
The second goal prompted Florida Coach Kevin Dineen to yank the rookie goaltender in favor of backup Scott Clemmensen. He didn’t fare much better, giving up two goals on the first six shots he faced. John Carlson’s slapper off a faceoff win made it 3-0 only 5:38 into the game and then Alex Ovechkin made a smart feed from behind the net to Mike Ribeiro for Washington’s fourth goal at 8:10.
“Four goals is obviously a lot in the league. Really, right after that, you’re concerned that we’re going to be a little flat. Because the intensity drops really fast. You didn’t really earn the goals,” Coach Adam Oates said. “It’s a good luxury but after that you’re really concerned that we’re going to lose our intensity and blow this, kind of thing.”
Oates said he didn’t feel comfortable with the advantage until the Capitals added a fifth goal, but that marker wouldn’t come until after they had a scare of their own in less than nine minutes into the second period. Florida defenseman Tyson Strachan blindsided Jason Chimera with a hit to the head.
“I saw the replay, and it’s one of those things. A guy’s not looking at you and it really didn’t have any effect on the play,” said rookie Steve Oleksy, who recorded two assists. “You know a guy’s vulnerable when you’re coming across there and you’ve got to try to make an effort to get out of the way.”
The veteran forward went to the dressing room but returned after roughly five minutes and finished the game, taking nine more shifts after the hit. Strachan received a five-minute major for interference and a game-misconduct for the hit, which may draw supplemental discipline from the NHL department of player safety. Chimera was not made available to reporters after the game.
Twenty seconds into the power play from Strachan’s hit, Ovechkin made it 5-0 with a shot from the left circle. Eric Fehr and Mathieu Perreault added goals in the third period, separated by one from Florida’s Jack Skille that ended a shutout bid for Braden Holtby (29 saves)
The shellacking allowed the Capitals to extend their current momentum, a wave that has seen them go 8-3-0 in their past 11 games — progress that they don’t take lightly after starting the year 2-8-1. The players know it’s important to win any way they can now, but don’t want to get carried away with one lopsided triumph.
“The mood’s always a lot better when you win a close, tight game, hard-checking game,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “Whenever you win a game like this there’s not quite as much excitement but guys are really happy. We’ve got a lot of confidence right now.”