By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 8, 2011; 11:54 PM
For weeks now, goal scoring for the Washington Capitals has been anything but automatic. Whether at even strength, on the power play or from some of the most effective offensive players in the world, finding ways to put the puck over the goal line seemed to grow more difficult the more time passed.
In the third period against the Florida Panthers on Saturday at Verizon Center, Washington got two kinds of goals that have been hard to come by lately: one on the power play and a game-winner by Alex Ovechkin - a trademark breakaway tally - to clinch a 3-2 win. The win gave the Capitals 54 points, keeping them one behind Tampa Bay in the race for the Southeast Division lead, and marked their sixth victory in eight contests.
"Just to get the lead in the third period was like a breath of fresh air," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "It seems when you come off of a shutout it seems you're never going to score and every goal you get is such a difficult goal. . . . You're wondering if you're ever going to score again."
Through the opening 20 minutes, though, it didn't look like the Capitals would have any better luck finding the net than they did in their previous outing, a 1-0 overtime loss to the Lightning. Although they were facing a Florida squad playing its fifth game in seven nights and the second of back-to-back outings, the Capitals appeared out of sync.
The Panthers didn't demonstrate much more flow in their game, but managed to weather an early Washington power play as the Capitals couldn't muster a single shot and then took a 1-0 lead just less than four minutes into the contest on a goal by Mike Santorelli.
Whether it was the lack of rhythm with new line combinations at the start or the building pressure to score, the Capitals' first period was predominantly sloppy, filled with errant passes and few scoring chances. As the contest advanced into the second period, with the Capitals still trailing by a goal and struggling to create quality opportunities against Panthers goaltender Scott Clemmensen, the memory of their most recent tally - the third goal in the Winter Classic on Jan. 1 - grew more distant.
"I just said, quite frankly, . . . we're not forechecking at all. We're getting in and we're worrying about being in position and systems, but if we don't go and put pressure on them nothing's going to happen," Boudreau said of his comments to the players in the first intermission. "We have to be better. I think we're too good to be this mediocre."
The Capitals finally broke through. After 96 minutes and 27 seconds of play without scoring a goal, Eric Fehr knocked the puck home from in front of the net after a stuffed wrap-around try by Mike Green to tie the score at 1 with 5:34 elapsed in the second. It marked Fehr's sixth point in six games as the right wing recorded three consecutive goals for the Capitals dating from the Winter Classic. "I was just going to the front of the net with my stick down hoping there'd be a rebound or anything," Fehr said. "Luckily he put it right on my stick."
Washington continued to build momentum and grow an advantage in energy against the Panthers, but it would have to face the third period without winger Alexander Semin. With 4:34 remaining in the second period, Florida's Steve Bernier hit Semin hip-on-thigh, according to Boudreau, and sent the Capitals forward tumbling to the ice. Semin returned for one shift at the end of the frame but didn't come back out to the bench at the start of the third and was listed as day to day after the game.
The Capitals were presented with what would be their final power play chance of the game midway through the third when Jay Beagle drew a tripping penalty on Michael Frolik and it would be a connection by Fehr and Green to put Washington on the scoreboard again. Fehr carried the puck from the right boards into the middle, found Green skating to the front of the net and the defenseman backhanded a shot that beat Clemmensen stick side for a 2-1 edge. The goal came immediately after Washington killed a penalty of its own, the Capitals' 27th consecutive short-handed situation thwarted and 33rd out of 34 in the past nine games, and shifted the balance of the contest to the Capitals.
"I think that's why we've had such close games is our power play's been struggling," Green said. "I think in the past when we get one on the power play then we'll get one from our third or fourth line and we'll have three or four goals. Without the power play going we're struggling to win games."
The final flourish would be Ovechkin's goal scored on a breakaway created by an outlet pass from Mike Knuble. Ovechkin had a step on Florida defenseman Bryan McCabe and even though he was tripped en route to the net, he fired a shot while falling down that found its target. It was Ovechkin's 15th goal of the season.
"I always took it to heart," Ovechkin said of the pressure to score goals. "My numbers are not as good or where they're supposed to be, but it's the middle of the season and there are 40 games left. We'll see what's going to happen at the end of the year."