How can the same team play such different games against two teams from their own division only 24 hours apart? It was like watching a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde transformation.
On Monday night in Atlanta, the Thrashers came in looking to extend a five-game winning streak. They started the scoring early, and as Washington's frustrations grew, the Caps starting racking up penalties. The penalty kill unit was sloppy and disorganized, and Atlanta took advantage, scoring three times on the power play. With the Caps trailing 4-0, Coach Bruce Boudreau elected to pull starting goaltender Jose' Theodore and replace him with recent Hershey call-up Simeon Varlamov. Varly allowed the Thrashers to score one more, and the Thrashers held a 5-0 lead until late in the third. Eric Fehr finally ended Kari Lehtonen's shutout with less than two minutes left in the game, and the game ended in a 5-1 loss for the Caps.
The Capitals recorded an astounding 83 shots in the game. Fourteen were blocked, 19 missed the net, and Kari Lehtonen stopped 49 from finding the back of the net. The Caps offense lacked the energy and determination they usually display, and the defense just couldn't get their act together to clear the puck out of their zone. Altogether, it was an extremely disappointing game for the Caps and their fans. Final score: Caps 1, Thrashers 5 (L).
The good news from the game is that Defenseman Brian Pothier made his return after missing 14 months due to a concussion-related injury. Pothier recently completed a conditioning stint of 4 games with the Hershey Bears. He played Monday against Atlanta for Mike Green, who was sidelined with an undisclosed minor injury, and showed no signs of lasting effects. Pothier is a veteran blueliner whose services could be invaluable come playoff time.
In the last of their back-to-back outings this season, the Caps faced off against Florida at BankAtlantic Center Tuesday night. Florida is battling for a playoff spot, so everyone expected another tough game. What they got was, not so much.
Everything the Caps did wrong on Monday they corrected on Tuesday. Theo stopped the 19 shots he faced. The defense was strong and made few mistakes; the Panthers didn't even get a shot on net in the third period. The offense kept constant pressure on the Panthers with solid forechecking and backchecking throughout the game. The PKU successfully killed off eight minutes of short-handed play, and the first goal of the game came from Brooks Laich on a short-handed opportunity in the second period. Viktor Kozlov connected on a pass from Michael Nylander to put the Caps up 2-0 early in the third, and Green finished off Theo's shutout with an empty-netter off a pair of passes from the Amazing Alexes. Final score: 3-0 in favor of the Caps. It was Theo's second shutout of the season, and the 28th of his career.
Some interesting notes about the Caps top line, 8-19-28:
-- Alex Ovechkin's assist against Florida was the 400th point of his career. Only one active player has reached 400 faster than Ovi.
-- Ovi and Alexander Semin lead the NHL in shots on goal for the month of March. Including last night, Ovi has 55 and Semi has 42.
-- Semi and Nicklas Backstrom lead the NHL in takeaways, with 69 each. Semi leads the league for month of March with 19.