By the end of the season, the fact that the 2011-12 Washington Capitals were the first squad in franchise history to start the year 5-0 will be little more than a footnote regardless of what is in store for them this year. Of that much, Coach Bruce Boudreau is certain.
But to accomplish what none before them have in Washington’s 37-season history, this group put together its most complete 60-minute game of the young season to exploit an exhausted opponent and capture a 3-0 victory against the Florida Panthers.
“Quite frankly, when it comes to April and May I’m not going to be able to sit here and say: ‘Hey, we were 5-0 and we got that record. Isn’t that great?’ ” Boudreau said. “It’s not really going to hold a lot of weight. It’s just the process of getting to where we want to get.”
Marcus Johansson, Alexander Semin and Jason Chimera each scored a goal while Tomas Vokoun posted his first shutout (20 saves) against the team he served the previous four years. Most impressive, though, was that the Capitals continued to push their beleaguered foes. The Panthers arrived in Washington late Monday night for their third game in four days.
From the opening faceoff, the Capitals dominated puck possession, fenced Florida in its own zone and buzzed around 21-year-old goaltender Jacob Markstrom, who was making his first NHL start. Markstrom, a 2008 second-round draft pick, finished with 29 saves and showed why the Panthers value him so much. But the Capitals’ early dominance and continued pressure suffocated their opponents before they had a chance to respond.
“I think we play solid, we didn’t give that much and we scored when we needed to,” said Vokoun, who boasts a .935 save percentage and 1.94 goals-against average in his first four starts with Washington.
On the first power-play chance of the game, Johansson scored his third goal of the year when his stuff attempt along the goal line squeaked between Markstrom’s pads to give the Capitals a 1-0 edge only 4 minutes 24 seconds into the contest. It stood as the game-winner and marked the third consecutive game that Washington has recorded a goal on the man-advantage.
In addition to the early lead, Washington barely allowed a peep from the Panthers, who didn’t muster a single shot on Vokoun through the first 11:40 of the contest. By the end of the first, the Capitals held a staggering 11-2 edge in shots. If not for Markstrom, they likely would have held a larger lead.
That tone remained constant throughout the rest of the game, save for a brief lull at the start of the second period that Washington weathered by getting back to the simple play of dumping pucks deep and keeping a steady presence on the forecheck that they didn’t waver from again.
“The first two lines got pucks deep, so that really helped,” said Chimera, whose empty net tally with 44 seconds remaining gave him the team lead in goals, with four. “When we get in trouble we try to play too skilled. When we get pucks deep, it’s hard to contain big bodies like [Alex Ovechkin], [Mike Knuble] and Semin.”
Semin gave the Capitals a cushion when he made it 2-0 less than two minutes into the third period with a pretty wrist shot from the right faceoff dot. It was a strong outing for Semin, who finished with two points and a plus-2 rating and improved to five points on the year.
After the game, the Russian winger met with former Capital Matt Bradley in the hallway of Verizon Center. Bradley, who was making his first appearance in Washington as an opponent since the 2003-04 season, apologized to Semin for the critical comments he made during a radio interview in July and gave his former teammate a hug.
On Tuesday night however, it wasn’t just Semin or Johansson or anyone else acting as the sole propellant to victory but rather the group adhering to its game plan as a unit. It was a demonstration that showcased the team-first mentality that Boudreau wants to see from the Capitals every night.
“We’re doing it together which is really good,” Boudreau said. “I think all of the guys are doing good. I think we’ve spent way too much time worrying about individuals in the years here and now it’s worrying about let’s see how the team does. It’s all about the group as far as I’m concerned. That’s my little rant for the day.”
Capitals notes: Jay Beagle missed a second straight game since he was knocked out by Pittsburgh’s Arron Asham on Oct. 13. . . . Goaltender Michal Neuvirth was scratched for the third consecutive outing with a bruised right foot.