I must admit to very mixed feelings about last night's Caps game against the Panthers. Things got off to a good start for me, as I turned the game on (it was supposed to be on a different channel, so I could just start the DVR without seeing what had happened, but my wife was also recording something, so it had to end up on the channel for one of them) just as the Caps scored the opening goal, six minutes in. Beagle actually got the goal off a rebound of a Brouwer shot.
I went back to watch what had happened before that, but it was nice to know that they were getting on the board first. The rest of the first was dominated by the Panthers, as scoring chances ended up 3-2 Cats (shots 10-8). But it wasn't huge domination, and the Caps kept the puck out of their net, so things weren't looking too bad.
The second period was much more mixed. The vast majority of the period was spent in the Caps end, but the Caps did manage to do good things when they got it into Florida's zone. I can't say as I was real happy about the way it played out, but I was certainly happy about the results, which was that the Caps scored two more than Florida (OV had a really nice drop-and-follow with MarJo, scoring on the rebound of MarJo's shot, and Laich found the top corner from the high slot two minutes later. Samuelsson had an even nicer shot to bring the margin back down when he was left entirely alone on the wing with four minutes to go).
What was kind of funny was that all four goalies played in this period. The bad part was that Holtby came in when Neuvy got hurt (Sturm fell on his knee; I'm not feeling good about his chances of playing again this season). The funny part was when Clemmenson came in for Theodore after the third goal. What made that funny was that he was only in for a minute and a half, getting a nice save in that time.
The other interesting part of the period was that the period being played mostly in Washington's end only resulted in an 11-10 shot lead for Florida, and Washington was actually ahead (6-4) on scoring chances. I'm really not liking that as a strategy, but I'm happy that it worked this time.
The third period was made much more tense when Jovo-cop scored on a fluky deflection off a defenseman's stick forty-two seconds after the opening face-off. Despite that, Washington seemed largely content to play defense for the period. In fact, their only sustained pressure without a power play being involved came in the ninth to tenth minutes, when Perreault's line got its only shift of the period.
The Caps did manage a goal later; they got a power play (weirdly, on a pretty innocuous high stick after several really blatant trips and interferences went uncalled) with three minutes left. They didn't score on the power play, technically, but Semin backhanded the puck to the roof of the net from in close only four seconds after the penalty expired.
And that was basically the end of the game. It lasted another minute, but Washington was able to keep Florida from getting set up in the zone, so it wasn't as exciting (thankfully) as it could have been.
The one big improvement in the third period was that there were only four giveaways. That's still a higher number than I'd like to see in a period, but compared to the 18(!) through the first two periods, it was significantly better.
Overall, I was happy with the result; it, combined with Buffalo's loss, guarantees the Caps a playoff spot (and guarantees one for Florida, come to that). So Saturday's game will only determine whether or not the Caps can manage to pass Florida for the division title (and playing the first round at home), or Ottawa for seventh place.
As I mentioned, Neuvy went down with an apparent knee injury. I haven't heard anything official, and I'm not a doctor, but while I hope he'll be back soon, I don't think that's terribly likely. So this could easily end up being a costly victory, especially if TVo remains unable to play. Holtby's current playoff record does not exactly inspire confidence. Plus, Neuvy had stopped everything before he got hurt.
And I'm getting more and more annoyed with Hunter's choices about who plays and who sits. I don't like the idea of having one line playing only one shift in a period, doubly so when that line is effective when on the ice. And this makes two games in a row (at least) where Beagle has gotten more ice time than Semin. Yes, Beagle's been a lot more effective than I would have guessed, but let's not get delusional about where this story ends. There's a reason that, even after last night's goals, Semin has five times as many goals as Beagle. And why is Ward on nacho duty, when he's leading the team in +/-? Yes, that's not the be-all and end-all of stats, but it's a pretty decent stat for comparing players within a team. And the degree to which it is misleading works in Ward's favor, because he generally faces the toughest competition when he is out there. And what did Halpern do to end up off the ice? Is he injured? Because his play certainly didn't seem sub-par before he got yanked away from playing duties.
Anyway, at least the Caps are in (well, I'm not entirely sure that's a good thing, for the team in the long-run. It might convince management that nothing is wrong with this team, and that definitely isn't the case) the playoffs. And they do have one more game to try to improve their seeding (while I'm pretty indifferent to 7th vs 8th, 3rd would definitely be nice).
And that last game is against the Rangers, which, barring a shift in seeding, will be a preview of the first round. Go Caps!