Matt Hendricks knew what the Washington Capitals needed to do Thursday night against the Florida Panthers.
“We need to find ways to win every night,” Hendricks said. “Our goal is to come out with a good start, to get the lead and play our game, kind of take all momentum out of the opponent’s sails.”
A goal on the first shot just 1:58 is good. Two on the first two shots in 3:10 is better. By the time 8:10 had elapsed, the Caps had a four-goal lead and two points sealed up.
The final score was 7-1, but this one was over so early that the Caps didn’t have to worry for long about falling into last place in the Eastern Conference. That distinction still belongs to the lowly Panthers, who were without seven regulars and saw rookie goalie Jacob Markstrom implode at Verizon Center.
Washington’s Braden Holtby, making his 11th straight start in goal, said he worries about mental fatigue in warm-ups and early in games. That wasn’t a problem early against the Panthers, as the Caps reached four goals in the second-fastest time in team history; they did it in 6:49 on Jan. 21, 1986 against the Minnesota North Stars.
Ten Caps players registered at least a point in the first period; five of them were not alive for the fastest four-goal start in franchise history.
It was a rout started by John Erskine on a shot the defenseman was just throwing on net so he could get off for a change. If it was possible for the second goal to be even softer, forward Wojtek Wolski scored on a weak wraparound, the second shot of the game.
That was the end of Markstrom’s night, but not nearly the end of the Caps lightning the lamp behind the Panthers’ net. John Carlson beat Scott Clemmensen on the fourth shot the backup goalie saw, and then Mike Ribeiro not too long after.
The rest of the game was just gravy, as the Caps put up at least five goals on Florida for the third time in as many meetings this season.