As Coach Dale Hunter sought to find more offense against the Florida Panthers Friday night he began rotating players through different line combinations. But there was one unit he didn’t reconfigure — the fourth line of Jay Beagle, Jeff Halpern and Joel Ward remained for the duration of the contest and rightly so, seeing as they created the most consistent and sustained pressure of any of the units.
Although the trio didn’t finish with any points, they recorded nine shots on goal and were on the ice for seven of the Capitals’ 16 scoring chances according to resident stats guru Neil Greenberg.
“I thought they really worked hard, they cycled the puck, they had great scoring chances,” Coach Dale Hunter said. Panthers goaltender Jose “Theodore was good and stoned ’em but that’s one of the lines I used right up until the end.”
The opportunities for the fourth line came off the cycle, with all three players winning battles along the boards to protect the puck or corral it when loose. The group took advantage of space to create havoc in front and force Theodore to stay sharp early, while taking a toll on the Panthers’ defense.
“I thought Beags and Wardo did a fantastic job of holding on to pucks down low and not just holding on to it, but getting away from checks,” Halpern said. “We were able to hold pucks off cycles, get it to the point [to] get shots on net and we had good chances. It’s disappointing we didn’t score but I thought we did a good job.”
While they would have certainly liked a goal to show for their efforts, by taxing the Florida defense and giving the Capitals something to build off of with consistent pressure throughout each of their shifts their presence didn’t go unnoticed.
“We were just trying to contribute,”’ Beagle said. “We had a meeting this morning and everyone’s got to chip in and be offensive and we can’t just rely on the skill guys. We were trying to create opportunities. We were close to getting some goals there just keeping it down low. It was a fun game to play.”