By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 8, 2009
With Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green wearing suits instead of skates, it figured the Washington Capitals might struggle offensively.
Nothing could have been further from reality Saturday night at Verizon Center.
Sparked by Mathieu Perreault's first career NHL tally and a pair of late strikes from Tomas Fleischmann, the Capitals erupted for five goals in the third period and routed the Florida Panthers, 7-4, before a capacity crowd .
"We can say their goalie struggled and [José Theodore] maybe let in a couple of softer ones than he normally has, but I thought we showed great determination in the third period," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "It was really neat to see Mathieu Perreault start it all."
The goal total was Washington's highest since February, and the five third-period goals were the most in a period since March 2008.
And the spark that ignited the Capitals' offensive outburst came from a 21-year-old who was skating in only his third game since being recalled from the minor league Hershey Bears.
Perreault won a puck battle behind the net and stuffed a shot from the doorstep between Scott Clemmensen's pads to tie the game, 3-3, at 2 minutes 21 seconds of the third period to notch his third point since being recalled.
"I had a lot of energy when I stepped on the ice," said Perreault, wearing the red hard hat given out by the Capitals' players after wins and wiping shaving cream from his face. "I felt good in the third period."
So did many of his teammates.
The Capitals scored four of the next five goals to beat the Panthers for the second time in two nights and maintain a seven-point lead in the Southeast Division.
"It says we've got good players on this team," Boudreau said. "And both nights [Alexander] Semin didn't get a point, either. It says that these other players are good. We all know how good Alex and Mike and Semin are. But there's a lot of depth here."
While many of teammates thrived, Semin again struggled. He failed to score a goal for the fifth straight game and was whistled for two minor penalties, including another one in the offensive zone. Semin has been called for four offensive-zone penalties in the past three games.
"He has no one really to talk to on the bench because Alex and Alex do a lot of talking to on the bench," Boudreau said when asked why Semin seemed to be struggling without Ovechkin in the lineup. "He doesn't have that communication. But it's really tough to get in his head."
Another unlikely hero was Quintin Laing. In addition to blocking two shots, delivering a team high four hits and taking four shots, the grinder scored his second goal in two games -- doubling his career output.
"Bruce has been preaching going to the net, going to net with your stick on the ice," Laing said. Matt "Bradley threw it to me, and my first thought was to go behind the net.
"But then I remembered what Bruce was saying about going to the net with your stick on the ice."
Knuble's two goals and two assists tied his career high for points and marked the second time he has accomplished the feat. His second goal of the night was an important one. Coming at 11:06 of the third period, Knuble redirected a point shot from Shaone Morrisonn past Clemmensen, who faced 32 shots and struggled all night.
"We started Clemmensen on the idea that he'd be fresh," Panthers Coach Peter DeBoer said of the decision to go with his backup. "It didn't work, and that's on me."
Fleischmann also had a big night for the Capitals. In just six games back from a blood clot in his leg, Fleischmann has five goals.
Boudreau, however, is not surprised by Fleischmann's play.
"I expected it," Boudreau said, "because I'm a really huge believer in Tomas Fleischmann."