WASHINGTON – Alexander Semin showed no rust following a lengthy injury absence as the Washington Capitals demonstrated they are just as dangerous without Alex Ovechkin in the lineup.
Semin had two goals and two assists in his return from a right wrist injury and the Capitals hardly missed Ovechkin, their suspended superstar, in beating the Florida Panthers 6-2 on Thursday night for their fourth straight victory.
“We just go out and play as a team, that’s the key word,” Semin said through a translator. “Of course, it’s bad that (Ovechkin) didn’t play tonight, but what can you do? It was my first game after an injury and it’s always difficult to play your first game after an injury. The team helped me a lot to get back to my game.”
Asked whether he was surprised that Semin, who had missed the previous seven games with the injury, played so well in his return, Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau wisecracked: “He was well rested. He should have a lot of energy.”
Ovechkin served the first of a two-game ban levied by the NHL following his ejection Monday for a knee-to-knee hit on Carolina’s Tim Gleason. Some fans in the sellout crowd of 18,277 held signs reading “Free Alex.”
Ovechkin will be eligible to rejoin the Capitals on Monday at Tampa Bay; the Capitals are 5-1-1 this season when he’s not in the lineup.
“I think it shows we’ve got some depth,” said Washington’s Brendan Morrison, who had a goal and two assists. “Obviously, Ovie isn’t in the lineup tonight, so it’s a chance for other guys to step up and contribute. We got that tonight from several guys.”
Tomas Fleischmann, Matt Bradley and Nicklas Backstrom also scored for Washington, which improved to 3-0-0 this season against the Panthers.
Stephen Weiss and Bryan Allen scored for Florida, which has lost six of seven. Weiss’ team-high 12th goal with 3:22 left ruined Semyon Varlamov’s shutout bid.
Varlamov is 6-0-2 in his last eight starts and 11-1-2 in 15 games this season.
Scott Clemmensen subbed for injured Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun for the second straight night, but was quickly pulled from the game. Vokoun was struck in the head by teammate Keith Ballad’s stick on Monday and stitches were required to repair a gash in his left ear.
Florida allowed three power-play goals in 12 opportunities – two in the third period after Mike Duco was assessed 27 minutes in penalties and ejected – and failed to score on five man-advantage tries.
“It was undisciplined; we didn’t play our system. When you are in the box for 30 minutes, you are not going to win many games,” Florida’s Bryan McCabe said. “With a power play like that, even without Ovechkin, they’re still clicking around pretty good.”
Semin and Fleischmann scored midway through the first for a 2-0 lead, sending Clemmensen to the bench in favour of backup Alexander Salak.
“(Semin) didn’t miss a beat at all,” Morrison said. “He got us going with an early goal, a beautiful goal – a toe drag and a great shot. Not too many guys can do that. It got us going on the bench.”
At 10:34, Semin froze Clemmensen with a stutter-step in the right circle before flicking the puck past him for his 10th goal. A little over a minute later, Fleischmann scored from between the circles.
The quick outburst was the kind of start Boudreau was hoping for against the listless Panthers.
“I like the way we followed the game plan in the beginning,” he said. “We thought they’d be tired and if we attacked them early and got them down, they might not have the strength to come back.”
Bradley’s short-handed tally made it 3-0 early in the second.
NOTES: Washington registered a season-high 44 shots and is 6-0-0 against Southeast Division opponents. … Ovechkin has missed all three games against the Panthers this season, the first two while recovering from an upper-body injury in early November. … Florida also scratched LW Kenndal McArdle (upper body injury). … Washington D Shaone Morrisonn (concussion) missed his seventh straight game, while RW Mike Knuble (broken finger), C Boyd Gordon (back), LW Quintin Laing (broken jaw) and D Tom Poti (upper body) also sat out. … Washington RW Eric Fehr has points in five straight games, a career high.