Capitals chase Vokoun, destroy Panthers 7-3

Colin Campbell made some waves when, for the second time this season, he suspended the Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin right before a game against his son Gregory's Florida Panthers; not that the talented Capitals have needed him. With Ovechkin out of the lineup, the Capitals have a 6-2 record, three of those wins against the Panthers. I don't think anyone expected that the Capitals would be hard-pressed to get a win tonight in Florida. What maybe no one expected was the spectacular collapse of a Panthers club desperate for points.



Colin Campbell made some waves when, for the second time this season, suspended the Washington Capitals' Alexander Ovechkin right before a game against his son Gregory's Florida Panthers. Not that the talented Capitals have needed him. With Ovechkin out of the lineup, the Capitals have a 6-2 record, three of those wins against the Panthers. I don't think anyone expected that the Capitals would be hard-pressed to get a win tonight in Florida.

What maybe no one expected was the spectacular collapse by a Panthers club desperate for points.

The Panthers came out strong out of the gate, registering several shots in the first few minutes. Then, at 2:49 Shaone Morrisonn went to the box for tripping and the punchless Panthers power play took over, managing one shot on goal. Soon after, a turnover in the offensive zone led to a Capitals rush and a tripping penalty on Shawn Matthias. With Matthias in the box, the Capitals rushed the net and Nicklas Backstrom scored the first goal.

The Panthers stayed reasonably competitive in the period, although they were playing fairly sloppy.  Late in the period, Jason Chimera scored to make it 2-0 Capitals, but three minutes later, Dmitry Kulikov made a perfect pass from in front of the Panthers' bench to a streaking Steven Reinprecht, who blasted it by Jose Theodore.

Right at the end of the period, the Panthers turned the puck over in the offensive zone again and the Capitals tore up ice. Shaone Morrisonn got a shot off and Tomas Vokoun got out of position making the save, so Bryan Allen knocked the net off the moorings to keep the puck out. He was sent to the box for another Capitals power play, but was quickly followed by Backstrom.

At the beginning of the next period, the Panthers collapse began. With the teams still at four-on-four, Keith Ballard blocked a Brendan Morrison pass and it dropped in place. Stephen Weiss tried to pick it up but missed and Morrison grabbed it and scored to restore the Capitals' two-goal lead. Coach Peter DeBoer changed his lines, swapping Matthias and Rostislav Olesz to the fourth line with Nick Tarnasky and bringing Kamil Kreps up to the line with Gregory Campbell and Radek Dvorak and slotting Michal Repik with Steven Reinprecht and Cory Stillman. Kreps in particular looked good in the first, making some strong plays and taking several shots.

It didn't seem to help as the Panthers mostly floundered, with the Capitals keeping them to the periphery, where they made weak shots that were blocked or easily stopped by Theodore. After a stoppage mid-period, the Panthers had a particularly bad play; Stephen Weiss won a faceoff in the neutral zone but couldn't get anything set up. A turnover by McCabe led to an Eric Fehr goal, putting the Capitals up 4-1. A power play goal by Brooks Laich at the middle of the second chased Tomas Vokoun from the game. The change seemed to energize the Panthers, and Kreps scored on the next shift.

Unfortunately, the defense didn't get any better and backup goaltender Scott Clemmenson looked shaky. He dropped down early on a Tyler Sloan shot but made the save, then gave up a big rebound to Backstrom, who popped it in to put the game out of reach. After this shift, DeBoer had apparently seen enough from his top line, they spent the rest of the period on the bench.

The third period saw more bench time for the top line, with DeBoer running only the bottom three from the second, but giving Keaton Ellerby regular shifts with Bryan McCabe. Kreps and Dvorak continued to get some good chances, though Dvorak looked a bit tired and the Matthias line played with energy, but the Capitals continued to dominate. About five minutes in, DeBoer put David Booth back out in place of Michal Repik, but the Panthers still struggled. Brooks Laich put another nail in with just under eight left in the game.

The one bright spot in all of this is that the Panthers never gave up. They continued to try to score, and only finished with two fewer shots than the Capitals, but were sloppy and only half the team was playing with any energy. Michal Repik, back out for Booth scored one very late to cut the margin, but it was far too little, far too late. Kamil Kreps had a great game with two points (five shots and plus-one in 14:01). Ever since the letter from the owners before the trade deadline, he's been playing like someone who thinks he's going to be looking for a new team in the summer. Most of the rest of the young players had a decent game, but the performance of most veterans was lackluster and sloppy.

In short, the Capitals showed why they're the top team in this league right now, even without their biggest star and the Panthers showed exactly why the owners felt compelled to post an open letter promising big changes a few weeks ago.

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