September 15, 2019

Washington Capitals Game 48 Recap: Panthers score twice in first two periods, take down Caps 5-2

Given that this was just the Washington Capitals’ second game in as many weeks due to the recent D.C. blizzard and All-Star break — never mind that the team was missing two key offensive cogs in Alex Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson — a flat showing Tuesday from the very shorthanded Caps against Florida could have been understandable.

Strong even-strength performance aside, a couple of stagnant Washington power plays in the early going set the tone for the evening, as the current Atlantic Division front-runners scored twice in each of the first two periods to beat the Eastern Conference-leading Capitals, 5-2 at Verizon Center.

Andre Burakovsky and T.J. Oshie both had early chances on Panthers goalie Al Montoya, but the 30-year-old netminder held steady. Two Washington power plays before the halfway mark of the first period came and went with just one shot on goal, including a brief sequence where the Capitals were two men to the good. Shortly after an Oshie hooking penalty expired, Jonathan Huberdeau scored his first goal of the night off a centering feed from former Capital Jaromir Jagr. Aleksander Barkov doubled the Florida lead with 4:54 left in the first, and the Panthers led 16-8 in shots at the intermission.

The Capitals failed to convert on three additional man-advantages in the second, and while they out-shot Florida 11-6 in that frame, Vincent Trocheck beat Washington goalie Philipp Grubauer from a short angle just 21 seconds into the period to make it 3-0. Through plenty of Capitals chances, there would be no breakthrough until after the intermission.

The Panthers strengthened their lead with 4:50 remaining in the second when Huberdeau rattled one in off the post from above the right circle. Boos rained down from the Phone Booth crowd as the horn sounded, as the crowd who’d remained silent throughout most of the period displayed their dissatisfaction.

Barry Trotz touched on the Bronx cheers afterward in his press conference, saying that they’re “something we’ve got to fight through.”

Washington came out on fire in the third, scoring two goals in the first 1:53. Nicklas Backstrom went backhand-forehand in the net mouth on a rebound left by Montoya after an Evgeny Kuznetsov shot just 34 seconds in. Moments later, Kuznetsov dished it from behind the net to Burakovsky, who fired the puck low past Montoya with traffic in front.

But the equalizer never came, and Florida tacked on a late one for good measure.

“We just weren’t sharp. There’s a reason for that, we haven’t played … obviously you’re going to feel a little better the more you go [along], everything just kind of went in the wrong direction for us tonight,” Justin Williams said afterward.

“We came out with a little bit more energy [in the third period], but it wasn’t like we completely flipped the script or anything,” John Carlson said. “We were creating good chances and the pucks just finally went in … I think we had effort, we had energy, we created a heck of a lot of chances.”

In all, there were 12 minor penalties called throughout the contest, all coming in the first two periods with eight in the first.

“There [were] a lot of penalties out there,” Burakovsky said. “I think that some of them is a couple bad calls. I think the ref should just let us play the game. On the other side, I think we giving the referee a reason to take two minutes on us and it’s something we have to be better on. We should give the ref no reason to give us a penalty.”

Trotz said that the team “did a lot of good things” and was satisfied with the 5-on-5 effort, but affirmed the team’s need to score in 5-on-3 situations and that “we did it to ourselves.”

Florida blocked 16 shots, compared to three for the Capitals.

Washington outshot the Panthers in 5-on-5 by a 27-14 margin, but it was their 0 for 8 power play mark that likely proved fatal.

Grubauer got the start in favor of Braden Holtby, who played in Sunday’s All-Star Game, and allowed four goals on 18 shots faced. According to Trotz, Grubauer was going to play the entire game “no matter what.” Holtby should be expected to play on Thursday night against the Islanders.

Ovechkin should return Thursday as well after serving a one-game suspension for missing the All-Star Game. No update on Marcus Johansson’s status, as he is still listed day-to-day with an upper-body injury.

When asked on how the team handles situations when Ovechkin is unavailable, the team’s leading goal-scorer with 28 on the season, Trotz went back to the recent blizzard as an analogy for preparation, in case something more serious were to happen to Ovechkin in the future.

“I don’t know why I’m thinking about the winter storm; it’s no different than what we did here. You prepare for something to happen. No different than our mayor here, had to do that and prepare for something. [Ovechkin’s absence] gives us an insight to prepare if something happens. You talk about reps as a player, reps as an organization. Maybe he does get hurt, you don’t know. It also tells us, a couple injuries, where we could be vulnerable.

“Everything that’s happened to us, we’re learning from it. If you were to have said that our top pair of Orpik and Carlson would not be together almost all year and we would have the record that we do, you’d probably say that you’re not thinking right. And we got the chance to find out a lot about people in our organization and what they can do when those people are out or when something happens to them.”

Both games postponed due to the blizzard have been rescheduled. The game against Pittsburgh will be on March 1, and Bruce Boudreau’s Ducks will come to Verizon Center on April 10. Both games start at 7:30 p.m.

About Eric Hobeck

Eric Hobeck is a Staff Writer for District Sports Page covering the Redskins and Capitals. Eric contributes to high school sports coverage at InsideNova.com. He served as sports editor of The Rotunda at Longwood University for two years, where he was also the men’s basketball beat writer. He hosted a campus radio show for three years and called basketball and baseball games for the station’s award-winning sports team. You can follow Eric on Twitter @eric_hobeck.

%d bloggers like this: