Cap­i­tals es­cape their funk

Holtby makes 27 saves in fourth ca­reer shutout

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - CAP­I­TALS 5, PAN­THERS 0 BY KATIE CAR­RERA

It was bound to hap­pen some­time. Even as they have trudged through a hor­rid start the Washington Cap­i­tals be­lieved they would find their of­fen­sive rhythm and put a com­plete game to­gether even­tu­ally. It turns out that the per­fect recipe was host­ing a fa­mil­iar foe they have re­cently dom­i­nated, and do­ing it on the day af­ter hold­ing a play­ers-only meet­ing.

Washington dom­i­nated the Florida Pan­thers to record a 5- 0 win Satur­day night at Ver­i­zon Cen­ter that fea­tured strong al­laround show­ings from nearly ev­ery mem­ber of the lineup.

“It’s only one win, ob­vi­ously we needed [it],” Cap­i­tals Coach Adam Oates said. “They get to­mor­row off and then Mon­day we’ve got to go back to work. We play [Florida] again Tues­day and the games keep coming. En­joy the moment and then get back to work.”

Goal­tender Braden Holtby made key stops early and fin­ished with 27 saves in the fourth shutout of his ca­reer, and his team­mates pro­vided am­ple sup­port. The Cap­i­tals gave up only a hand­ful of scor­ing chances and four play­ers — Troy Brouwer twice, Joel Ward, Alex Ovechkin and Mathieu Per­reault — scored to keep grow­ing an ini­tial first­pe­riod lead and chase Florida starter Jose Theodore from the op­pos­ing net.

That the thor­ough per­for­mance fol­lowed a meet­ing in

MAPLE LEAFS 6, CANA­DI­ENS 0

James Reimer made 37 saves, and Phil Kes­sel had a goal and two as­sists as Toronto crushed Mon­treal.

Maple Leafs C Leo Ko­marov added his first NHL goal 59 sec­onds into the game. Tyler Bozak scored later in the first pe­riod, and James van Riems­dyk and Kes­sel added sec­ond-pe­riod goals. Korbinian Holzer and Dion Pha­neuf scored in the third for Toronto.

The Maple Leafs com­pleted a sweep of a three-game trip and are 6-1-0 on the road. which play­ers “cleared the air” fol­low­ing the ugly 5-2 loss to Pitts­burgh on Thurs­day and ad­dressed what they ex­pect out of each other is no co­in­ci­dence.

“I think the time right now we just have to turn around. And that kind of game we need,” said Ovechkin, who recorded his first even-strength goal of the sea­son. “Ev­ery­body was so fo­cused to­day, like, we have a meet­ing for the guys and we just said, like, ‘Be fo­cused, bring en­ergy and do what you have to do best.’ It works and it starts with our goal­tend­ing and it starts with “D” and the for­wards.”

It was a sleepy start in the first pe­riod by both teams as they traded turnovers with few qual­ity op­por­tu­ni­ties. Ar­guably Florida’s best scor­ing chance of the night came less than nine min­utes into the open­ing frame with the game still score­less when Kris Ver­steeg raced down the right side on a two-on-one. He kept the puck for a shot that Holtby calmly snared in his glove for a save that Oates cred­ited as cru­cial for Washington’s con­fi­dence.

“Great for Braden. He made the big save early for us, what we needed,” Oates said. “Af­ter that we didn’t give them much and scored some goals.”

With 17 min­utes 45 sec­onds gone in the first Brouwer redi­rected a shot by John Carl­son past Theodore, who stopped only 16 of the 21 shots he faced be­fore be­ing pulled in the third pe­riod, for a 1- 0 edge. An early lead hasn’t been enough for the Cap­i­tals at all this sea­son, as they had yet to win a game in which they scored first prior to Satur­day’s vic­tory, and the play­ers knew they needed to build on the start.

Early in the sec­ond when Pan­thers tough guy Ge­orge Par­ros went off for in­ter­fer­ence, the Cap­i­tals made it 2- 0. Holtby, who never shies away from han­dling the puck, caught Florida in a line change and sent a silky smooth saucer pass up to Brouwer on the of­fen­sive blue line. Brouwer car­ried the puck in and boomed a slap shot into the top left cor­ner 3:36 into the sec­ond.

Washington added a rare in­surance goal for its first three­goal lead of the sea­son 11:55 into the mid­dle stanza when a new look third line man­aged to cash in af­ter a strong shift. Eric Fehr worked the puck along the boards to Per­reault, who sent the puck to Ward in the left cir­cle. Ward stretched and fired shot past a Pan­thers de­fender and beat Theodore blocker side to make it 3- 0 and record his fifth goal of the sea­son.

“I thought we came up short a few games where we [were] kind of up by two and can’t push for that third and let teams back in,” Ward said. “We just kind of kept build­ing on” the ini­tial lead.

Just a day ear­lier, Gen­eral Man­ager Ge­orge McPhee ac­knowl­edged that the team has strug­gled to close out its op­po­nents. The lux­ury of a three-goal lead al­lows the Cap­i­tals to take some pres­sure off it­self and fo­cus on con­tin­u­ing to ex­e­cute prop­erly rather than wor­ry­ing about try­ing to force of­fen­sive plays.

Washington con­tin­ued to play with con­fi­dence and flow in the third pe­riod as all four lines kept the mo­men­tum mov­ing for­ward, dom­i­nat­ing puck pos­ses­sion and not al­low­ing the Pan­thers any op­por­tu­nity to get back in the game.

“I really thought tonight we had a really good rhythm for the whole game,” Oates said. “We’ve had it at times, but tonight I felt com­fort­able just keep rolling [the lines] over.”

Ovechkin ripped a shot off a face­off win by Mike Ribeiro 3:49 into the fi­nal frame for a 4- 0 lead but the scor­ing didn’t end there. Just be­fore the half-way point of the third, Per­reault chased down a re­bound from a shot by Jeff Schultz to record his first goal of the sea­son and give the Cap­i­tals a 5- 0 lead.

The blowout win may have been the type of vic­tory the Cap­i­tals needed for a fresh start but the true test will lie in whether they can build off it dur­ing a three-game road trip this week.

“I think any win at this point is what we’re look­ing for. Any­thing less is un­ac­cept­able,” Holtby said. “We al­ready gave our­selves a big enough hole with be­ing com­pla­cent, and right now we’re not go­ing to step off the gas the rest of the year.”

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