It's an awesome evening - because of the weather and other commitments I watched tonight's Caps game on TV from home so can only comment from the vantage point one gets via Comcast.
Tonight's game was exciting to watch and I'm not sure that was such a good thing. When the Panthers scored their third goal of the evening I felt exactly like Coach Boudreau and if my lip reading skills are any good - we said the same thing too. But this isn't the same team it was in early November so instead of folding the Caps came back to take the lead 4-3 on another beautiful goal by Alexander Semin on a rebound off an AO wrist shot after a great setup pass by Nicklas Backstrom.
The Caps were dominate except for the first 10 minutes of the second period, and how the Panthers got back in to the game during that time is a testament to their offensive capabilities. The Caps ended the first period leading 3-0; at the end of two it was 4-3 and of course at the final horn it was 5-3 Caps. For the evening Victor Kozlov had two goals on 4 shots; Ovechkin had goal and an assist on 9 shots; Backstom had 4 assists and 3 shots, 3 takeaways and won 9 of 20 face offs - the four assists tied a Caps rookie record according to Laughlin and Bennati; and Semin had a goal on two shots and put on two stick handling clinics for the Panthers defense. Brent Johnson had a solid night between the pipes for the Caps turning back 25 of 28 shots. Collectively the Washington pucksters out shot their Florida foes 35 - 28, won 61% of the face offs, killed 4 of 6 penalties (66.6%) and scored 3 power play goals on 5 chances (60%). Tom Poti logged 29:27 of ice time and according to super stats had a hit. I didn't see the hit and didn't see him finish a check all evening. From what I saw this wasn't number 3's best game, though he did end up +/- +2 for the night and he led the Caps in ice time by more than 4:00 on a night where they got a two goal win. Mike Green logged 25:10 of ice time had 2 assists but was +/- -1 for the evening since for the statistics he was on the ice for 1 Panthers goal at even strength and all three Caps power play goals. One of two pleasant surprise of the night was John Erskine's play. Erskine logged 18:31 of ice time on 30 shifts, scored a goal, and was +/- +2 for the night. Additionally Erskine did a good job playing a physical game and holding his own. The pleasant surprise was Jeff Schultz's play and his willingness to mix it up when the Panthers started taking liberties with Brent Johnson. The sixth defenseman tonight was Milan Jurcina (vice Steve Eminger); Jurcina had a decent night logging 15:16 of ice time on 21 shifts, 3 hits and a blocked shot.
Tonight's win means the Caps have played 0.654 hockey (a 107 point pace) since the coaching change; and when they wake up tomorrow, they will wake up in 11th place in the Eastern Conference with 47 points one point ahead of both the Florida Panthers and the Buffalo Sabres who both lost tonight. They will also be two points out of the playoffs, behind the eighth place Boston Bruins, the ninth place ninth place New York Rangers and the tenth place Atlanta Thrashers, all of whom have 49 points. They also now find themselves only three points behind the Southeast Division leading Carolina Hurricanes; however the Hurricanes have played 50 games so far this season, and Atlanta 49 games while the Caps have only played 47.
Things are getting interesting around the "Phone Booth" and they are also getting more fun to watch every game. If you were counting the Caps went 4-1 during this home stand and they are 6-1-1 versus Southeastern Division opponents and 13-7-3 against Eastern Conference opponents. Even more promising, if you are looking to be optimistic is the fact that of the 35 remaining games, the Caps will play Eastern Conference Teams 30 times (none of which will be against the best team in the east, the Ottawa Senators who the Caps beat 4-0 in this years series.) Additionally of the 35 remaining games, the Caps play Southeast Division opponents 13 more times (Atlanta: 4 times - 2 home, 2 away; Carolina: 3 times - 1 home - 2 away; Florida: 3 times - 1 home, 2 away; and Tampa Bay: 3 times - 1 home, 2 away) . Finally should the Caps find themselves really surging to solidify a playoff berth or the Southeast Division lead they finish the season with a three game home stand at Verizon Center against Carolina, Tampa Bay and Florida during the first week of April. Given the fact that this season they are 9-8-2 overall against Southeast Division rivals (even including the horrible month of November where they went 1-7-2 against SE foes), you have to at feel the Caps a realistic chance of making the playoffs.
Next up: Pittsburgh (without injured Sidney Crosby) in the Igloo in Steeltown on Monday; then a home & home against the Toronto Maple Leafs who have won their last three on Wednesday and Thursday. The next home game is Esskay dollar dog night on Thursday against the Maple Leafs. It's all good - LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!,