WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 18: Tomas Vokoun #29 of the Washington Capitals and Jacob Markstrom #25 of the Florida Panthers warm up before the game at the Verizon Center on October 18, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
The Panthers, fresh off a 7-4 drubbing of the Tampa Bay Lightning the previous night, came into D.C. and were promptly shown the door as the Capitals dominated the Panthers and walked away with a 3-0 victory over Florida. It's possible the Panthers were a bit tired after playing two games in two nights, but that's not a statement meant to detract from what the Capitals were able to achieve: solid offensive pressure, fantastic defensive and neutral zone play, and solid goaltending. Former Panther Tomas Vokoun got the start for the Caps and pitched his first shutout of the season, looking solid but not facing much pressure as the Capitals muffled the recently-potent Panther offense. Florida gave rookie netminder Jacob Markstrom his first NHL start against perhaps the league's hottest team, and despite taking a loss, he looked fantastic and confident, making some very difficult saves on some very high-quality scoring chances. The future certainly looks bright for the Florida franchise in net, but clearly there's more work to be done with this year's squad, as the Cats just looked simply outmatched against the Capitals in this game.
The Capitals came out flying, getting tons of early pressure on Markstrom and testing him early. A very bad tripping penalty on Scottie Upshall put the Panthers on the PK early, and the Caps made them pay, with Marcus Johansson scoring with a shot that barely trickled through Markstrom's pads and in. The Panthers followed up the goal with a great offensive shift, but then were dominated for the remainder of the first period. The Capitals started laying into the Panthers with plenty of heavy hitting and physical play, and the Panthers had trouble responding, often spending long shifts in the defensive zone as the Caps peppered Markstrom with shots. Florida didn't get much going offensively until about five minutes left in the period, when the Capitals Roman Hamrlik was called for interference. The Panthers welcomed the opportunity, especially after shelling the Lightning the night before on the man advantage, but the Caps had fantastic neutral zone pressure, giving the Panthers a ton of trouble breaking into the offensive zone and getting set up. Both teams exchanged chances to finish the period, but the Caps came away with a 1-0 lead and tons of momentum coming into the second.
The Panthers came out with their top line and generated some chances through some solid pressure on Vokoun, with Tomas Fleischmann even hitting the post, but the Cats weren't able to put one past the former Panther netminder. The play was pretty even from there on out, though the Capitals' first line still gave the Panthers a lot of trouble, with yet another long shift in the Panthers defensive zone as the Caps fired shots on Markstrom. Brian Campbell made a fantastic defensive play, breaking up a two-on-one by deflecting a pass from Brooks Laich, otherwise it would've likely been a sure goal for the Caps. After that, it was the Jacob Markstrom show, as he made several brilliant saves to keep the game within reach, including a fantastic slide across the crease to stuff a quick Mike Green blast off a 3-on-2 rush by Washington. Unfortunately, the Panthers continued to play a bit despondently and weren't able to do much offensively other than dump and chase. The Caps neutral zone pressure stymied the Panthers breakouts, giving them a ton of trouble getting over the blueline, and it seemed Kevin Dineen didn't have much of an answer to it. He responded a bit by shuffling lines and the Cats responded with a bit more offensive pressure, but still had a lot of trouble creating space for themselves to help enter the Capitals zone with any kind of speed. Late in the period, Matt Hendricks and Jack Skille took matching minors, creating a 4-on-4 situation, but neither team was able to put one in. The Panthers escaped the second period without giving up a goal, but mostly due to the excellent goaltending of Markstrom.
The third period started out rough, as Alexander Semin fired a quick wrister down the wing past Markstrom to give the Caps a two-goal lead. Markstrom was a bit out of position on the shot as his angle was off slightly, but you can be sure the young goalie noted that in his mental ledger for next time. The Caps started to really ramp it up at that point, wanting to score the next goal and try to bury the Panthers. Florida continued to have tons of trouble getting any quality chances as Washington just outskated and outworked the Panthers nearly everywhere on the ice. Florida was able to get some shots off on Vokoun, but none of the dangerous variety and he was able to turn everything aside with little effort. The Panthers sat back too much during the third as the forecheck wasn't active enough to generate turnovers. Luckily Hamrlik took a bad interference penalty in the third, giving the Panthers their second powerplay of the game, but the Panthers weren't able to convert. Florida pulled Markstrom with just under a minute and a half left, but the Panthers lost control of the puck after a hard shot by Campbell and Jason Chimera potted an empty net goal, giving the Caps the win and Vokoun a shutout.
- Markstrom was absolutely brilliant in his debut. He looked incredibly composed after giving up a weak goal early, and stopped a series of very solid scoring chances in the second as the Capitals continued their seemingly constant pressure. He looks NHL-ready, but it's very likely he'll head back down to San Antonio to dominate for the Rampage when Scott Clemmensen comes back healthy.
- Sean Bergenheim was a scratch for this game, with the Panthers dressing seven defensemen and giving Keaton Ellerby his first start of the season.
- Ryan Carter continued his unimpressive play on the fourth line. He's not been as physical as last season, when he endeared himself to fans and the coaching staff with his big hits and solid forechecking. He's gotta pick it up if he wants to keep his spot in the lineup, especially with Mike Santorelli set to return soon.
- Fleischmann looks like he's trying a bit too hard the last few games. You can see the skill level and talent, but he seems to be gripping the stick too tight. Hopefully he can settle down and contribute more on the score sheet for the Cats.
- The defense of the Panthers (mainly Dmitry Kulikov) took too many risky chances tonight, pinching along the boards when they shouldn't have and trying to make long cross-ice passes through traffic that a team like the Capitals would normally eat up. There are some teams the Panthers may be able to get away with that stuff on, but the Capitals aren't one of those teams.
- Erik Gudbranson looked shaken up after the end of the third period, apparently injuring himself on a mostly innocent play in front. Hopefully he's alright and no worse for wear.
- Vokoun looked sharp, although he didn't face many shots, and had very few scoring chances against him. Washington played an incredibly tight defensive game and after so many years being the anchor in Florida, it's got to be a nice relief for Vokie playing for such a solid and deep team like the Caps. Still, it would've been nice to see the Panthers light him up like a Christmas tree, but there's plenty of games left for that.
- The Cats looked quite tired by the third period. Not calling for a famous DeBoer bag skate, but hey... just sayin'.
- After an electrifying special teams performance against Tampa Bay the night before, the Panthers only managed to draw two calls against the Caps and weren't able to convert on either. Let's hope that the five-goal explosion the other night wasn't a fluke.
- Mike Weaver is a boss. He's consistently the most responsible blueliner the Panthers have, and looked awesome tonight, even throwing the body around a bit. Glad to see Weaver continuing his stellar play from last season for the Cats.