The Caps really wanted this one; they came out firing, and determined to take it to the Panthers. And they did. They maintained pressure steadily through the period; I was surprised when they finished the period with so few shots. But they did manage to take a 1-0 lead when MarJo slipped it through the pads of his friend, Markstrom, on the power play.
As has generally been the case this season, the third line led the way, shutting down Florida's top line and getting chances of their own. In fact, they started a beautiful sequence towards the end of the period where the Caps kept the puck in the offensive zone for a minute and a half or two minutes. I can't remember if they managed one or two shift changes while keeping it in; but it was a thing of beauty.
Florida, perhaps encouraged by being down by only one, despite being solidly outplayed, came out flying to start the second. I was worried that the team was going to just mail it in the rest of the game, as the Cats kept the pressure up pretty steadily for five minutes or so. But the Caps rocked back from their heels, and started throwing their own punches (metaphorically), playing steadily for the rest of the period.
And in the third, they got things going quickly, with Semin putting one just over Markstrom's arm, hitting the inside edge of the post on the way into the net. That was less than two minutes in, and pretty much set the tone. Despite Florida being pretty desperate, the Caps continued to outplay them for the rest of the period, limiting Florida's chances while generating a number of their own.
And with a minute left, Chimmer put the last nail in the coffin, backhanding one into the empty net from the red line. Hands of stone? I've certainly said it before, but this line is making the most of his talents, and I'm loving to see it. I don't think he'll continue to lead the team in goals for long, but that's ok. If they continue to solidly shut down the other team's top line, I don't care if he doesn't score another goal this season. And if he does continue to score, well, that's just some very tasty gravy.
And to revisit some of my earlier comments, I was concerned that we might be paying too much for Ward, based on one really good playoffs, but I'm loving his game. He works hard, he's a beast on the boards, and he plays smart. I wouldn't call it pretty, but I'm already tempted to get a jersey (though I think I'll stick with my original plan to get an Alzner one, instead). Of course, the season is still young enough for "small sample size" to be a reasonable concern, but I'm not basing it on a few big events, just lots of little ones. So hopefully that isn't the case.
Other than that, Carlson and Alzner continue to be awesome. One thing that was a bit weird was that Alzner was the one getting shots off tonight, but that certainly isn't a major thing.
OV wasn't looking too good for most of the game. In fact, through the first two periods (I think that's when it changed), he seemed disinterested when not on the attack. As in, he would immediately start coasting as soon as the puck turned over, even if it was close to him. He looked much better in the third, so maybe he got a good talking to about his effort. And hopefully, it will carry over to future games.
MarJo looked pretty good, although he didn't get nearly as many chances as I expected. And I was disappointed when, in the middle of the first, he got a clean run down the outside of the offensive zone, but didn't go for the wraparound. I forget what he did do, but I remember that it didn't work.
Perreault looked pretty good, although he didn't get much ice time, either (the least on the team by quite a bit). I wish he'd get more chances; as I said, he looked good when he was out there.
Hamr didn't look all that great when he was out there. He had some nice blocks of shots, but he was kind of all over the zone when playing defense. He's the only Caps defender I saw playing above the circles in the D-zone. Hopefully, he only did it the one time I noticed, because if he's been doing that, then we know why he's been on the ice for so many goals against. He also took a pretty foolish penalty trying to stop a rush when there were already others back.
Finally, let's get to the man of the night, Mr Clean-sheet Vokoun. He looked great stopping shots; he scared me a couple of times with his stick-work (I thought he was going to lose the stick one time he stuck it out), but was fabulous when facing shots. He was even ready to stop a weird bounce off the end-boards that led to a sudden, close-in shot. So I'm glad to see him get the shutout; hopefully the first of many.
And let's also give a shout-out to Markstrom, who got his first NHL start tonight. He lost, but only allowed two goals on thirty-one shots (some of which were really tough). He should be proud of the performance, as should Panthers fans.
So now we wait for the first game of the season with the Flyers, on Thursday. They're only one point behind the Caps in the standings, and probably deserve their record more than the Caps do. So it should be a pretty tight game, likely going into overtime again. But not if the Caps play like they did tonight. Time will tell.