The Florida Panthers were happy to have a few days at home, full of rest and recuperation, patiently waiting for the league-leading Washington Capitals to arrive in Sunrise for their first meeting of the season.
It was quite a meeting.
After three exciting periods of back-and-forth hockey, the Capitals downed the Panthers in overtime 5-4 off a Tom Wilson wrister on the rush. This came immediately after Cats defenseman Aaron Ekblad couldn’t put one past Braden Holtby on a breakaway.
The Panthers, who were still without second line center Vincent Trocheck, did not look at all out of their league against one of the best teams in the NHL to this point, and at times controlled the pace of play far better than the Caps, holding them shot-less for long stretches of time and maintaining control of the puck all over the ice. This game had more scoring chances than three other games combined, as the offense was on full display for both teams.
Special teams played a part for both clubs as both Alexander Ovechkin and Evgenii Dadonov scored on the power play. The Panthers had a total of five power plays but were unable to convert on all but one of them. That was a huge difference in the game as scoring on even two of them would’ve really put the Capitals on their heels. Instead, the penalty kills gave Washington the momentum they needed to stay in the game and eventually lock up the two points with an overtime win.
The Panthers looked like they had the two points in the bank as Ekblad made his way in alone on Holtby at the start of the overtime frame, but they’ll have to settle with the loser point and take solace knowing they were as good as, if not better than, the league’s top club for most of the game. The Cats will hopefully remember the sting from this loss as they’ll see the Capitals two more times this season.
Join the DC crowd at the always-enjoyable Japers’ Rink to hear more about the Caps, and get yourself ready for another difficult match-up on Saturday as the Panthers head to New York to take on the Islanders, who are 10-0-1 in their last ten games. Yikes.
- Mike Matheson returned to action after missing a handful of games due to injury, and he performed admirably, finishing the game with a +1 rating and helped to drive the possession metrics that head coach Joel Quenneville so greatly covets. Glad to see Matheson back as he’s really turned a corner so far this season and is an asset on the blue line for the Cats when he’s playing that way.
- The Panthers need to figure out a different approach to the power play that doesn’t involve feeding Mike Hoffman endlessly, because it’s not only predictable, but it’s also difficult to retain possession when your sniper blasts the puck off the glass on 75% of his shots. Not Hoffman’s fault as he’s not going to hit the net every time, but the Cats have to figure out something else to try.
- I’ve enjoyed watching Alex Ovechkin over the years not just because he’s an exciting player, but also because he’s just a puck shooting machine. He came into this game leading the league in shots with 76, and he still had a shooting percentage above 14% (he’s 12.6% for his career). The guy just throws the puck at the net from areas you would not see most players shoot and the puck finds its way in, and he’s been doing so long and so successfully that it’s clearly more than just luck. More players could learn from that mentality.
- The Panthers had no Noel Acciari but the trio of Colton Sceviour, Dryden Hunt and Dominic Toninato was as tenacious as when Acciari is in the lineup. They had numerous shifts during the game where they had full puck possession and pinned Washington in their zone for long stretches of time. Solid effort by that group and they deserved a goal.
- Ekblad had a rough game, on ice for three goals against and failing to score on a clean breakaway in OT on Holtby. That resulted in an easy 2-on-1 for the Caps, giving them the win. The Panthers need him to find his goal-scoring touch again soon, as a hot stick from Ekblad makes the Cats very dangerous on the rush. Sweet ‘stache though.
- The Panthers need to minimize the blue line play with some safer decisions, as there were multiple passes or dekes during zone entry that were broken up and went the other way with speed. Yes, it’s cliche, but when in doubt get it deep.
- Sergei Bobrovsky looked great nearly the entire game, again making some huge saves throughout. Shame he couldn’t make the last one on Wilson in overtime.