WASHINGTON – For a weekend at least, the Washington Capitals adjusted nicely to life without Alex Ovechkin.
With their star forward out for a second straight night with an unspecified upper-body injury, Washington won its second game in a row with a 3-2 a shootout victory over the Florida Panthers on Saturday night.
After Tomas Fleischmann forced overtime with a game-tying, 4-on-3 goal with 2:38 left in the third period, the Capitals recovered with shootout tallies by Mikhail Grabovski, Brooks Laich, and the clincher by Nicklas Backstrom.
After Laich’s shootout score on Florida goalie Scott Clemmensen, which appeared to come as he lost the puck, Washington goalie Michal Neuvirth made the biggest of his 31 saves, catching Jonathan Huberdeau’s attempt with his glove. Backstrom then ended it with a clean shot to the left side.
“Tonight was an ugly one,” Backstrom said. “Neuvy played great and kept us in the game.”
Neuvirth finished with 31 saves. Clemmensen had 21.
One of the players most relieved by Backstrom’s deciding shot was defenceman Steve Oleksy (seven blocked shots), who committed the slashing penalty that paved the way for Fleischmann’s goal. The score ended Washington’s string of successful penalty kills at 35, with five coming Saturday night
“You can’t have that. Steven knows that. You can’t lose your cool,” Washington coach Adam Oates said. “Fortunately, the shootout bailed him out.”
Florida lost its fifth straight, but showed improvement from its listless 4-0 loss Friday night at home to St. Louis.
“I think we stepped in a good direction tonight,” Fleischmann said. “We played like a team, pretty good all 60 minutes and I think that’s how we get our two points next game.”
Ovechkin had scored 10 goals in 12 games before he was hurt in the first period Monday at Vancouver. The Capitals have outscored opponents 10-2 without him, but Saturday’s win wasn’t nearly as easy as Friday’s 7-0 domination of the Philadelphia Flyers.
“You’re still patching the dike in a sense. You don’t want to lose anybody, let alone your star,” Oates said. “It proves your team is still a solid hockey team.”
Washington broke on top late in the first period with a fast-break goal that Backstrom started and finished. After winning a faceoff at the red line, he received a lead pass from Eric Fehr and fired a 15-foot shot through Clemmensen’s legs. With the score, Backstrom replaced Ovechkin as the team leader in points with 16.
Winchester tied it at 8:20 of the second period on a breakaway goal, but Carlson answered 36 seconds later for Washington. Fourth-line centre Michael Latta got his first NHL assist in helping Carlson score the first goal for a Washington defenceman in 30 days.
“We need offence from our (defence). Every team does,” Oates said. “You could tell by his celebration how much it meant to him.”
NOTES: The Capitals have a 13-8-2 record in games missed by Ovechkin. … A night after brawling with the Philadelphia Flyers at the end of their 7-0 win, the Caps were involved in more conventional tussle as Marcel Goc of the Panthers went after Latta after the Washington rookie elbowed Fleischmann, Florida’s top scorer. … Washington’s Marcus Johansson took what appeared an inadvertent stick to his chin in the third period.