The Washington Capitals fell flat again on Wednesday night, failing to capitalize on a big opportunity to beat a team behind them in the playoff standings, falling to the Florida Panthers 4-2 inside BankAtlantic Center. The Capitals were sunk by two Mikael Samuelsson goals, both soft. Michal Neuvirth was below average for the Caps, but Brooks Laich scored and John Carlson scored his first goal since December 7th in another demoralizing loss. If the playoffs started today, the Capitals...would not be in them. Let that roll around in your head for a second.
The game got off to a painfully slow start, with little offensive flow or action in the opening seven minutes, as one team had played the night before and the other had not played in over a week. Finally, with a little over five minutes left in the first period, there was some action, though it wasn't good for Washington, as they were sent to the penalty kill. Though the Caps were able to kill off the minor, the Panthers certainly began to buzz the net more, forcing Michal Neuvirth into making some very nice saves to keep the game scoreless. Jeff Halpern hit the post off a rush with less than a minute remaining, but ultimately the period closed tied at zero.
The Panthers broke the ice first in the second period, as Mikael Samuelsson beat Neuvirth with a shot from the red line; a terrible goal for the Czech to give up in such a huge game. It got even worse a quick period of time later, as Dennis Wideman was boxed for delay of game. DC was able to kill off the minor, but the Panthers kept up their offensive pressure until the Caps got their first power play with 10:42 left in the middle frame.
But ten seconds after the power play started, it was over as Sean Bergenheim broke loose with a 1-on-1 with John Carlson, which the defenseman countered with a stick in the face. He was called for high-sticking to negate the man advantage. Somehow, though, the Caps managed to equalize the game with a great goal from Brooks Laich, who beat two defenders down low and then sniped top corner on Clemmensen. Florida soon began to outwork the Caps again down low, controlling the pace of play. Thanfully, though, the period ended still tied at ones.
The third period started off slowly again, with neither team generating a ton of offensive momentum at the start, but that changed when the Capitals were called for goaltender interference with 16 minutes left in the frame. Predictably, the Panthers scored immediately, with Mikael Samuelsson putting one through Neuvirth's legs, another weak goal, to put the Caps in a huge hole. Soon after, they were awarded a power play of their own, but could not convert on it, keeping the deficit one.
With ten minutes left in the period, the Panthers scored again, as Stephen Weiss barreled through Neuvirth in a goal that was originally waved off but reversed following a video review. Now desperate, the Caps made a push late in the game to make it a better looking score, and got one past Clemmensen when John Carlson blasted one under the crossbar. Nevertheless, the Panthers iced it into an empty net soon after, and the Caps ended up in ninth. My word.
Same old same old from your Washington Capitals. They had a chance, a great chance, to put some distance between themselves and the Panthers for first place in the Division, and guess what? They...didn't. They were lazy, they were slow, and they didn't shoot the puck when they needed to. It's depressing. The Capitals are spinning their wheels, and there is no immediate reason to think they will stop any time soon. If you think otherwise, you're crazy. Sorry.
John Carlson is in some kind of funk. He's been making terrible decisions almost nightly and has been on the ice for more than 60% of the goals allowed during Dale Hunters tenure. I really hope this is just a sophomore slump; it's getting really hard to watch from such a talented player who was so great earlier in the year. Yeah, he scored. I still don't care. He needs to break out.
Michal Neuvirth is not doing himself any favors. He was exceptionally terrible on the first two goals; you cannot let in softies like that in a game of this magnitude and expect to win. Or play, for that matter. Expect Neuvirth to get his butt stapled to the bench for the foreseeable future after this one. I hope that people can handle this.
The Capitals will practice at Kettler tomorrow before a weekend doubleheader against the Canadiens and Bruins. Washington has to win both of those games. Will they win either one? Um...
Harry Hawkings is a college student who covers the Caps for RtR. Follow him on Twitter here.