Without suspended Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals rout Florida Panthers

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 17, 2010; D01

SUNRISE, FLA. -- With their leading scorer and captain wearing a black pinstriped suit Tuesday and watching from high above the BankAtlantic Center ice, the Washington Capitals proved, once again, they're much more than a one-man show.

Six players scored goals and 13 registered at least a point as the Capitals and their top-ranked offense cruised to an unexpectedly easy 7-3 victory over the Florida Panthers minus two-time MVP Alex Ovechkin, who served the first game of a two-game suspension for his hit Sunday on Chicago defenseman Brian Campbell.

"They try harder because the game's number one player is not there," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "It's like not relying on big brother. When he's there's and it's a close game you're always saying, 'Let's keep it a close game, Alex is going to score and tie it.' But when he's not there, they know they have to take it upon themselves to do it."

The Capitals improved to 7-2 and are averaging 4.8 goals per game without Ovechkin this season. They also defeated the Panthers for the sixth time, sweeping the season series for the first time.

The offensive onslaught was led by Brendan Morrison, who ended a lengthy drought, and Brooks Laich, who set career highs for goals and points.

Morrison, who had been scratched against the Blackhawks, scored his first goal in 16 games, second in 31 games, and notched a pair of assists; Laich had two goals and an assist, pushing his season totals to 24 and 54.

"It was getting ridiculous, to be honest with you," Morrison said. "Before Christmas I was basically a point-a-game guy. Then I just fell off a cliff. There were times this season when I was down and frustrated. But tonight, I just told myself, 'Go play.' That's the way I'm going to approach it the rest of the year. I think I have some things to offer the team down the stretch."

As good as Morrison and Laich were for the Capitals, the focus in South Florida still was on Ovechkin, hockey's most controversial figure, 24 hours after he was suspended for the second time this season.

"I didn't mean to make someone injured," he said before a team official halted the interview after three questions. "But you know, it's a hockey game."

Boudreau added, "He went to hit him but the hit didn't cause the damage, the boards caused the damage."

The damage, as the Blackhawks revealed Tuesday, is extensive. While Campbell is expected to avoid surgery, he could miss up to eight weeks with a fractured clavicle and rib.

Normally one of the team's most care-free personalities, Ovechkin was solemn and downcast and wore all black. On the ice for the morning skate, he took his spot alongside the other scratches while Tomas Fleischmann replaced him on the top line.

"I'm disappointed for what the league" decided, he said.

Boudreau said he planned to give Ovechkin and couple of days to "get over it himself" before addressing the hit and suspension with his star player.

"I know he was down after the first suspension," Boudreau said. "[But] I think he legitimately didn't think anything was going to happen [this time]. So it was more of a shock. . . . He's not happy. He's missing two games for his team and don't discount -- I know he makes a lot of money -- but that's a lot of money he's being fined."

Ovechkin has missed four games against the Panthers and two of the teams' three meetings in South Florida, which didn't please a throng of local Capitals fans, who held up red and white signs that read "Free Alex" along the glass during warm-ups.

Ovechkin's presence might have been missed. But it wasn't needed, not against the overmatched Panthers, anyway.

"Maybe we rely on Alex too much to score goals," Jason Chimera said. "It's lines like our lines that have to pick up the slack, and I think we did a good job tonight."

Each of the third liners -- Chimera, Morrison and Fehr -- netted goals.

The unit also factored in the game's turning point. The Capitals emerged from a wide-open first period clinging to a 2-1 lead, despite controlling the play for long stretches. But Morrison scored 49 seconds into the second period -- and the rout on was on. About 10 minutes later, Morrison made a nice play to set up Fehr, who fished the puck out of his skates and rifled it past Tomas Vokoun to notch his fourth goal in his past 16 games.

"I'm just trying to go out there and create some energy and get as many shots on net as possible," said Fehr, who needs one more goal to reach 20 for the season. "And it's been working for me."

Capitals notes: Goaltender José Theodore stopped 34 shots. Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin each had a goal and an assist. . . . Center Boyd Gordon aggravated a back injury early in the first period and did not return. . . . Defensemen Tom Poti and John Erskine and forwards David Steckel and Scott Walker were healthy scratches.

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