After two periods Saturday against the Florida Panthers, it looked like the Caps could be in trouble. The score was tied 1-1, but Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo was in the zone.
Luongo already had 23 saves including 17 in the second period alone. He had flashed his lightning quick glove to deny Alex Ovechkin and stopped both Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson right on the doorstep.
"It was one of those games where I'm thinking to myself, we only got one goal out of all that?" head coach Barry Trotz said. "I thought [Luongo] was really, really good, but I like our response."
What was their response? The Capitals, one of the most skilled teams in the NHL, got dirty. When they couldn't beat Luongo on the beautiful setups, they beat him with net-front presence and deflections.
Down 2-1 in the third, Alex Ovechkin finally managed to get one past the Florida netminder and it wasn't one of his patented rushes or slap shots, it was a simple tip-in of a Brooks Orpik shot.
"It took a tip-in goal to kind of open the floodgates so to speak," T.J. Oshie said. "He still made some good saves after that, but sometimes you've got to find different ways just to score."
From there, the dam burst. Luongo, who had been brilliant all night, allowed three goals on five shots. After Oshie put the Caps ahead with his second goal of the night, Lars Eller added the exclamation point.
Eller went to the front of the net and attempted a deflection on a shot by Andre Burakovsky. Instead, the puck ended up on his stick. Behind the defense, Eller was able to beat Luongo from up close to make it 4-2.
"That was something that we wanted to add to our game," Trotz said, "And you're seeing Ovi who, for instance, is more of a off the rush, get to a spot, he's got a few goals right in the blue paint right now earlier in the year."
"We talk about, we have to have a traffic in front of those guys," Ovechkin said. "All the goalies play well and if they see the puck they’re probably going to stop it."
Those so-called "greasy" or "dirty" goals are not something the Caps have been able to get too many of in recent years. Adding net front presence was a clear focus for this team heading into the season and Saturday's win was a glimpse of the kind of impact those goals can have on a game, especially a game in which the opposing netminder has taken over.
"When we played [Luongo] last time, I think we had two tip-in goals to find a win," Oshie said. "Great goaltender, you've got to get screens and you've got to touch some pucks before they hit him."
Trotz put the team's new philosophy succinctly after the game saying, "We always harp, no sense shooting if there's no one there."
MORE CAPITALS: LARS ELLER ON CAPS 4-2 WIN OVER FLORIDA