Washington Capitals Edge the Florida Panthers In A Shootout

Brooks Laich delivers the shootout winner. - Greg Fiume

A feisty Florida squad showed up in the nation's capital last night, but despite a late rally, dropped its fifth game in a row.

The Florida Panthers entered Saturday's game against the Capitals looking to snap a four-game losing streak, and instead, had to settle for a loser point for the third time in the last five games, as Niklas Backstrom, who opened the scoring in regulation, beat Scott Clemmensen to provide the clinching goal in the shootout to give Washington a tough 3-2 win.

Clemmensen made his first start of the season and turned aside 21 shots, but unfortunately, the veteran was abused in the shootout, surrendering goals to all three Caps' shooters.

Aleksander Barkov scored for the Panthers in the first round of the shootout to offset Mikhail Grabovski's tally, then Jonathan Huberdeau was snuffed in the second round by Michal Neuvirth, who finished with 31 saves, after Brooks Laich had scored the eventual game-winner, setting the stage for Backstrom's clinching dagger.

The Panthers were facing a Capitals team without Alex Ovechkin , and once again, drew the backup goalie, but as per usual, could not come up with enough goals to capture two points.

Despite being the better of the two teams last night, a beautiful passing play late in the third period between Huberdeau, Brian Campbell, and Tomas Fleischmann, who finished it off for his third goal of the season, was needed for the Cats to pull out a point in this one.

The Panthers, who were coming off a 4-0 loss to St. Louis on Friday, decided to remix the lineup last night. In were Scottie Upshall, Krys Barch and defensemen Ryan Whitney. Kris Versteeg (who will hopefully get the message), Sean Bergenheim and Matt Gilroy were scratched to make way for the trio. Barch set an edgy tone for the game by trying to stir things up with a couple of Caps before the opening face-off.

The Cats outshot Washington by an 11-5 margin in the opening period, but headed to the dressing room down a goal, as Eric Fehr's pass bounced off Martin Erat's skate and right to Backstrom, who fired the puck past a startled Clemmensen at the 16:41 mark.

Upshall made coach Kevin Dineen look good by springing Jesse Winchester for a breakaway goal at 8:20 of the second frame. Winchester notched his third by firing the puck home while falling to ice. Say what you will about how this team was assembled in the offseason, inking Winchester was definitely a shrewd move.

After finally breaking through and tying the game, the Cats responded in their usual fashion, by giving up a goal just 46 seconds later. No one picked up defenseman John Carlson, who steamed down the right side, took a pass from Michael Latta, and easily beat Clemmensen to restore Washington's one-goal lead. It looked like Barch was slow in getting back to cover on the play.

The Cats were staring down another night with no points when Fleischmann, who shook off a first period elbow from Latta to stay in the game, scored on a 4-on-3 power play with 2:38 left in the regulation. Huberdeau gathered up a loose puck behind the net and passed it to Campbell, who had joined him behind the cage, Campbell then found Flash alone in front and he buried it past Neuvirth from a sharp angle to tie things up.

Unfortunately, the Panthers shootout woes continued and the team was only able to leave town with a single point.

Observations:

  • Definitely a grittier effort from the Panthers last night, but once again the opposition's backup goaltender looked lights out against them. This disturbing trend needs to stop or the Cats will find themselves looking up at Buffalo and Philadelphia in the standings soon.
  • On the other end of the ice, Scott Clemmensen didn't face a lot of shots, Florida was pretty tight on D and the Caps looked a bit tired after blasting the Flyers 7-0 the night before, but looked solid and didn't give up any bad goals. Unfortunately Clemmer, much like Markstrom, had a tough go of it in the shootout
  • The Panthers did finish the game with 33 shots on goal, however, many of them came from the defense, with Kulikov and Campbell finishing with 5 each, while Tom Gilbert had 4. Once again, despite the advantage in shots, the finishing was just not up to snuff, although the two goals the Cats did manage to score were pretty ones.
  • While were on that subject, Shawn Matthias had a great chance in the third, a few minutes before the Fleischmann goal, but couldn't lift the puck at all and instead shot it right into Neuvirth's pad. The lightning in a bottle Matty captured for that stretch last season seems like a distant memory now.
  • The power play continues to be a sore spot. The Panthers failed to score on their first five opportunities before the unit finally clicked on the Fleischmann goal.
  • It was good to see Marcel Goc stick up for Flash after he took the elbow from Latta in the first period.
  • It was better to see Versteeg finally get benched for his lackluster play.
  • The assist for Huberdeau broke a five-game pointless streak. The Panthers need more from last season's Calder winner.
  • Defenseman Ryan Whitney made his first appearance since suiting up against the Lightning on October 10th. He was a healthy scratch nine times in a row before last night's tilt.
  • Four of the six last games have gone past regulation time, with the Cats only winning once. When the team manages to give a good effort they need to get rewarded more often. The goaltending in the shootout has been the main culprit so far, maybe a more aggressive approach in overtime is needed.

For more on the game, check out the opposition's star-spangled take over at Japers' Rink. Florida returns home to face the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday. The Oilers are one of three teams currently with less points in the standings than the Panthers. There is no such thing as an easy game for the Cats, so they will need to give a good effort to best the Copper and Blue and keep this losing streak from getting completely out of control.

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