After a rough couple of weeks to start the season, the Caps will appreciate any win they can bank. But this one feels even better because it was the kind of victory that incorporated every man on the roster. In what was no doubt their best and most complete performance of the year, Washington blasted Florida 5-0 Saturday night at Verizon Center.
When we met with the team at Kettler Iceplex this morning, it was apparent that the guys had their game-faces on. They were business-like; they had a team meeting and pledged to calm down and play to their best ability. Whatever was said was obviously taken to heart.
Braden Holtby was razor sharp from the outset against the Panthers. He made an early catching-glove stab of a Kris Versteeg wrist shot, and you could tell it was going to be a strong night for him.
John Erskine dropped the gloves with Panther tough-guy George Parros, and the two traded big right hands in a fight that brought Verizon Center to its feet.
The Caps have had numerous bad bounces go against them this winter, but their first goal of the night was a pleasant turnaround of fortune.
John Carlson took an errant clearing pass from a Panther and blasted a shot from just above the top of the circle. The puck was headed wide of the cage guarded by Jose Theodore when it happened to glance off the leg of Troy Brouwer and redirect perfectly for Washington into the open corner of the goal.
In the second period, Brouwer would get a much more conventional-looking goal, although the play that started the strike was not one you see every day.
With the Caps on the power-play, the Panthers iced the puck and went for a line change. Holtby alertly jumped out to the puck and sent a long aerial feed from near his own goal-line to Brouwer who was stationed at the far attacking blue line. From there, Brouwer stepped into an old-fashioned slapper down the right wing that scorched the net.
The line of Joel Ward, Mathieu Perreault, and Eric Fehr played a terrific game and they would get on the score-sheet twice.
Ward made it 3-zip with a beautiful snapshot that beat Theodore to close the second period scoring.
Early in the third period, Alex Ovechkin would rack-up his fourth goal on the year, and first at even-strength, with a powerful wrist-shot that came off a faceoff win by Mike Ribeiro.
The final score was complete when Perreault was rewarded for his efforts by sending a loose puck past Theodore with 10:32 remaining in the contest.
Panthers Head Coach Kevin Dineen lifted Theodore after that fifth goal. Jose wasn’t to blame on this night. By my eye his team didn’t have enough emotion in the tank at the end of a four-game road trip.
Holtby finished the night with 27 stops for his 4th NHL shutout in regular-season play. He looked confident throughout the game; his footwork was sharp, and his catching glove was cat-quick.
You would expect he’ll get the call on Tuesday when these two clubs rematch in Sunrise, Florida. We’ll have that one for you on Comcast SportsNet.