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Caps' focus on getting 'dirty' goals pays off in win over Florida

Caps' focus on getting 'dirty' goals pays off in win over Florida

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.

RELATED: Third period flurry lifts Caps over Panthers

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."


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Capitals have been their own worst enemy, and they were again on Friday

Capitals have been their own worst enemy, and they were again on Friday

The Capitals managed to earn a point on Friday in a 6-5 shootout loss to the Florida Panthers, but the game felt like a missed opportunity for Washington. After giving up four goals in the first period, seven power plays including two 5-on-3s, and two power play goals, the Caps knew they had no one to blame but themselves for the loss.

“We were still not quite there maybe emotionally,” Lars Eller said.

At least not for the first period. The Caps allowed four goals in the opening 20 minutes to dig themselves into a 4-1 hole. Each goal came from the slot as the Caps had no control over the front of their own net.

“Just tough to start that way, to kind of dig ourselves a big hole,” Brett Connolly said. “Obviously, it’s good to come back and get a point but we don’t need to do that to ourselves. It takes a lot of energy to get back in that game.”

Washington battled back to tie the game at 4, but penalties ultimately derailed their momentum, allowing Florida to retake the lead.

After scoring three straight goals, the Caps took three minor penalties in the final three minutes of the second period.

Alex Ovechkin was called for interference on Aaron Ekblad as he made no attempt to play a loose puck that trickled past the Florida defenseman. He was clearly focused on delivering the hit and nothing else.

Less than a minute later, Eller was caught on the ice a tad early, and Washington was called for too many men.

“I see Backy coming for a change, they had full possession,” Eller said. “I don't see behind my back, I think the guys are telling me he has one skate over so I think it was an unnecessary call, but what am I going to say? It's a tough one.”

With 1:15 of a two-man advantage to work with, Jonathan Huberdeau scored the go-ahead goal late in the period.

Even after a furious comeback, the Caps could not escape the second with the score tied because of the penalties.

Just 43 seconds after Huberdeau’s goal, Washington went right back to 5-on-3. Evgeny Kuznetsov was tossed from a faceoff by the linesman and argued the call, eventually earning himself an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

“He said something he shouldn't have said to the referee,” Reirden said of the call.

The Caps' penalty problems were exacerbated by the continued problems of the penalty kill.

Heading into Friday's game, Washington was only killing off 72.2 percent of the power plays they faced. They allowed another two power play goals Friday as they continued to struggle when facing the extra man.

“We have room for improvement for sure,” Reirden said of his penalty kill. “It’s a new system, new with the way we’re killing, its new personnel. We’re learning. We’re missing a key guy in Tom on that as well. It’s not easy, either, when you’re 5-on-3 when they’ve got talented players that can convert in that spot. It’s definitely a work in progress and I didn't expect it to go smoothly to start with. That’s one of the areas that we knew was gonna be new to our team this year and it’s gonna continue to take some work. It’s something that definitely is a work in progress.”

Mistakes put the Caps down 4-1, they put them down 5-4, they cost them a valuable point against a previously winless Panthers team before a four-game road trip through Canada, and they are ultimately why the defending Stanley Cup champions are only 3-2-2 to start the season.

And they know it.

“We’re still trying to find our game,” Connolly said. “Would we have liked to have picked up where we left off? Yes. But it’s not easy. We played a lot of hockey last year and a short summer and you come in here and there’s a lot of distractions, a lot of that kind of stuff. We’ve done some good things and we’ve done some not so good things.

"I think if you look at last season we weren't very good either at the start. We weren't at our best. Just take the positives and know that we can overcome that. It hasn’t been disastrous. We’re still getting points, we’re still above .500 right now with a tough couple back-to-backs to start the year. So not the worst start, but obviously we have another level.”


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Panthers head coach calls for league to review Ovechkin’s hit to Pysyk

Panthers head coach calls for league to review Ovechkin’s hit to Pysyk

The Florida Panthers played over half of Friday’s game with five defensemen after a hit from Alex Ovechkin ultimately knocked Mark Pysyk out of the game.

Early in the second period, Ovechkin attempted to enter the offensive zone with the puck, but it was swept away at the blue line back to Pysyk. Pysyk quickly chipped the puck away and then was on the receiving end of a hit from Ovechkin.

In real time, the hit did not appear to be a big one. It wasn't even the biggest hit Ovechkin delivered in the game, as in the third period he sent Aleksander Barkov flying with a shoulder hit. But Pysyk went down to the ice after the hit and left the game soon after.

After the game, Florida head coach Bob Boughner did not mince words.

“Pysyk got a high hit to the head,” he said.

When asked if he thought the league should review the hit, Boughner said, “I hope they do because if you see the replay, it's high. It's a head shot. And the league's trying to clamp down on that. Whether there's no call, I don't blame the refs. Maybe they missed it. That happens. But those are the kind of plays that need to be reviewed.”

Based on the replay, it is hard to determine if the principal point of contact was the head. Ovechkin does not launch himself, but does appear to take an upward trajectory into Pysyk. Still, it seems like a hard sell to say Ovechkin was targeting the head.

But the hit did send Pysyk out of the game, and in today’s NHL, when head hits are a big topic of conversation and when a player is injured on a play, the NHL has shown it takes those plays more seriously.

Pysyk returned to the game for one more shift after receiving the hit, but left the game after and did not return.

“Right now we're still getting him checked out, but we'll see more in the morning,” Boughner said.