Mired in last place in the Eastern Conference and desperately needing a boost in the standings, the Washington Capitals earned just their third victory of the season with a 5-0 win over the Florida Panthers at Verizon Center Saturday night.
Washington struggled in the short season’s first quarter, going just 3-8-1, but managed to at least not fall any further out of the playoff chase with the victory over their division rivals.
Braden Holtby had a 27-save shutout for Washington, his first since last March 25 against Minnesota, while Troy Brouwer had his first two-goal game since last February 28 against the Islanders. In addition, Alex Ovechkin ended his 5-on-5 drought, scoring his first even-strength goal of the season.
“I had a feeling right away we were going to play well,” Ovechkin said afterwards. “Everyone was focusing and not joking around. That’s how we have to play.”
Washington broke on top with 2:15 left in the first period, as John Carlson’s shot eluded Jose Theodore – while it deflected off Brouwer, it was originally credited to Carlson, but given later to the forward. More importantly for the Capitals, it gave the Caps just their fifth lead in a dozen games.
“The first goal was huge for us,” Ovechkin said. “The whole team was better.”
Brouwer scored a more traditional goal just 3:36 into the second period, taking a nice feed up ice from Holtby and blasting a shot past Theodore for Washington’s second 2-0 lead of the season. It also is Brouwer’s first 2-goal game since last Feb. 28 against the Islanders.
“He shoots the puck and passes the puck real well,” Brouwer said of Holtby’s pass. “Those aren’t plays you try and plan, when he was able to make the play – and flat too – I’m not going to say it was surprising, but good timing.”
“For him to have the vision to make the pass, it was pretty special,” he added.
Washington then got some insurance with 8:05 left in the frame when Joel Ward deposited the puck in.
Alex Ovechkin got rid of his 5-on-5 woes early in the third, scoring quickly off a face off win from Mike Ribeiro, who fed Jason Chimera and Ovechkin put it past Thedore. It was Washington’s first 4-goal game of the year, and first in 21 games dating back to last year’s first-round series with Boston.
Another forward who had been struggling as of late, Mathieu Perreault, knocked in his first goal of the year, poking in a rebound of a Jeff Schultz shot that Theodore couldn’t control. That ended the former Capital goaltender’s night, with 5 goals on 21 shots.
Washington’s win came at the right time with the Capitals facing a three-game road trip to Florida, Tampa Bay and New York on deck.
The win helped stop the Caps slide, but the Capitals knew they had a long way to go this season towards going where they wanted to be.
“It was a very important game – a divisional game,” Ovechkin said. “One game and it is over and we need to focus on the next one.”
“I think any win at this point is what we’re looking for,” Holtby said. “We already gave ourselves a big enough hole with being complacent but right now we’re not going to step off the gas for the rest of the year. That’s our plan and we’re going to do it.”