“If there’s two shots or 20, I’ll try to do my job.” Tomas Vokoun, on facing two shots in the first period.
Until last night, no Washington Capitals team in their 37 year history had ever started a season with five wins in a row. This team will play for six in a row Thursday night after defeating the Florida Panthers 3-0, behind a perfect 20 saves from Tomas Vokoun, the former Panther.
This game featured many reunions, with Vokoun and defenseman Dennis Wideman from the Caps side having played in Florida last season, and a trio of former Caps — Tomas Fleischmann, Matt Bradley and Jose Theodore — on the Panthers bench. Add in the drama over the “Sasha Cares” debate, and this game was a little more than your average Tuesday night Southeast Division tilt.
There were no fisticuffs, no boos, and no bad blood between ex-Cap Matt Bradley and Alexander Semin though. Bradley, teammates with Semin for six seasons, told a Calgary radio station over the summer that Semin “just doesn’t care.” From Tampa Monday, where Florida played the Lightning, Bradley apologized in the press for making those public comments, saying “I wish I could take it back. I apologize for saying it. He’s a great player. It’s one of those things you wish you could take back, but you can’t, so all I could do is apologize and move forward.”
Following last night’s game, in the hallway outside of the Panthers locker room, Bradley had the opportunity to tell Semin those things himself, with the players exchanging handshakes and hugs.
As for the actual game, the Capitals dominated the tired Panthers, who were playing for the second night in a row. Washington outshot Florida 11-2 in the first period and 32-20 for the game. The Panthers could not manage a shot on goal in three power plays, a night after scoring five times with the extra man.
The Caps, on the other hand, did what a team needs to do against a division opponent on the second night of a back-to-back: systematic destruction. It was obviously the Caps most complete effort to date this season, and the Capitals ten points this season is only matched by three other teams in the league, though the Caps are the only team to accomplish the feat is just five games.
Vokoun — who earned the 45th shutout of his career — didn’t have to work too hard on his end last night, but when he was challenged he was more than up for the task. He moved easily, quickly and efficiently, seemingly anticipating each Florida effort. Vokoun, who sat opening night but has not sat again, has stopped 92 of 95 shots he faced in the last three games. Even if you figure his first start, where he gave up five goals on 28 shots, for the season he’s 4-0-0 with a 1.94 GAA and .935 SV%.
“We played a solid game all the way through 60 minutes,” Vokoun said. “You know [Florida] is going to be a little bit tired, they travelled last night, it’s a long way. They came better in the last two periods but I think we played solid and didn’t give them much.”
The Caps stifling defense and Florida’s slow legs combined to produce just two shots on goal in the first, making tough for Vokoun to “get into” the game. “You don’t see anything then you don’t know what’s going to happen. But you gotta get used to anything and not every game is gonna be the same, a different pace and everything. My job is still to stop pucks, so I’ll worry about that and try to take all the other stuff out of it. So if there’s two shots or 20, I’ll try to do my job.
Coach Bruce Boudreau spoke about the advantage of being rested against a team traveling and playing on back-to-back nights. “They were tired. Two very emotional games against their cross-town rival [Tampa Bay] and then had to fly here so we thought this was the perfect advantage for us. You know in the scheduling, I’m sure it’s probably going to reverse itself somewhere down the road but we got a break and if we don’t take advantage of the breaks then shame on us.”
The Capitals took every advantage afforded to them last night. They punished a tired division opponent at home, just the way you’re supposed to. It should be a great confidence builder leading into Thursday’s matchup in Philadelphia, against the 4-0-1 Flyers.
CAPS NOTES: The Caps got goals from Marcus Johansson (3), Alexander Semin (2) and Jason Chimera (3).
Johansson’s goal was a power play marker, and the Caps are now at 29.4 percent this season, good for third in the league early on. Nicklas Backstrom assisted on the play, and has a team-leading six points (one goal, five assists) for the season.
Eight different skaters recorded a point last night, with Alexander Semin (goal, assist) the lone multi-point scorer.
Matt Hendricks led the team with six hits. Roman Hamrlik and Dennis Wideman each blocked three shots to lead the team.