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Washington Capitals

Caps Maul Panthers

Washington CapitalsLast night’s game was an absolute beauty for Caps fans, as Washington recorded a big win 6-2 against Florida in the first of another two Ovechkinless games. The key man was the other Alex. In his first game back from a wrist injury that saw him miss the last seven games, Alex Semin recorded two goals and two assists with a performance that settled any previous doubts about his level of play without Ovechkin. In the six games earlier in the season when Ovi was injured, Semin failed to satisfy expectations that he would step up in his line-mate’s absence, managing just 2 points, both goals in the shootout win over the Islanders. But the signs are good for Saturday’s visit to Philadelphia, as Semin excelled without number eight.

Any doubts over Semin’s wrist injury were soon put to bed as he scored the Caps’ first goal with a wicked wrist shot that sped over the shoulder of Scott Clemmensen. The second goal was similar to the first, as Thomas Fleischmann capped off an excellent passing play between line-mates Brendan Morrison and Eric Fehr to once again beat the Panther’s goalie high on the glove side. Clemmensen was then replaced for the Panthers by youngster Alexander Salak. The Czech held out for the remainder of the first period, but there was no let up from the Capitals in the second, as even with a man in the penalty box, Matt Bradley found the net with a lucky deflected wrist shot that beat Salak relatively easily. Penalties then became an issue for the visitors, and the Caps were given plenty of chances to improve their recently cold power play – which had managed just one goal in the past eighteen attempts prior to this game. The top line delivered in style, as Semin found Nick Backstrom with a great pass, after the Swede was given plenty of room by the strength of Brooks Laich in front of the net. The Capitals extended the lead in the third period with a couple of power play goals from Brendan Morrison and Semin.

The Caps last two goals came on a long power play opportunity after young Panther Mike Duco was ejected for jumping Alex Giroux early in the period, as he objected to a clean hit by Giroux on defenseman Dmitri Kulikov. Although the incident gave Washington seven minutes of power play time, it highlighted a problem that has been evident throughout the season – the lack of an enforcer. Duco managed to get a few punches in on a helpless Giroux before being bundled into the boards by Caps captain Chris Clark and co. Surely, though if Donald Brashear was still on the team’s roster, or someone similar to him brought in, then Duco wouldn’t have gone after Giroux in the knowledge that he would face the wrath of the big guy. Chris Clark can do an adequate job of protecting his teammates, but does not bring the same effect that a player like Brashear does. The Capitals have recorded seven fighting majors in twenty eight games this season, and barring Matt Bradley monster fight against Aaron Voros, none of them have had much effect on the game – spurring the team on or sending a message to the opposition. An incident that immediately springs to mind is Ovechkin’s injury against the Columbus Blue Jackets, in which the Russian winger was heavily targeted throughout the game. It was clear evidence for the need of a distinguished tough guy on the roster to protect the Capitals’ stars.

Although they will be disappointed to have given up two late goals to Florida, ruining Varlamov’s bid for his second shutout in just over a week, the Caps will be very pleased with both the result and the performance, and looking forward to Saturday – I know I am.

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