Through four games, results in the form of victories were there for the Capitals, even if their play hadn’t matched their perfect record. Some measure of history was on the line Tuesday night against the Florida Panthers, with this team seeking to be the first in the 37-season history of the franchise to start with five straight wins.
“That’s how it should be: When you get a team like that on a back-to-back game, when they travel this far, you better be fresher and obviously outworking them,” said goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who enjoyed a relatively easy night, making 20 saves while picking up the shutout. “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy but we also knew if we play our game and work harder than them, then we got a pretty good chance to beat them.”
While the Panthers looked like a downtrodden team thanks to a game Monday in Tampa followed by a three-hour flight and late arrival in Washington, the Caps pounced and controlled the puck and play for easily 90 percent of the game.
Offense was there, stunted only by Jacob Markstrom, making his first career NHL start and finishing with 29 saves. And the Caps’ penalty-killers shut down a Florida power play that went an amazing 5-for-9 Monday.
The result was the first 5-0-0 start in franchise history, but it’s not like the Caps were popping any champagne while talking about it.
“We’ve got 10 points,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Quite frankly when it comes to April and May, I’m not going to be able to sit here and say, ‘Hey, we were 5-0. We got that record. Isn’t that great?’ It’s not going to really hold a lot of weight. So it’s nice, but it’s just the process of getting to where we want to get.”
If Tuesday’s domination of a struggling Panthers team was any indication, some work needs to be done, but the process is moving along. The little things were particularly noticeable against Florida, with the Caps winning battles in the corners and along the boards and setting up good scoring chances.
“I thought we played really well tonight,” defenseman Dennis Wideman said. “I think defensively we were solid; we didn’t give them a whole lot. And when we did, obviously Tomas came up big. I thought we were really good on the forecheck tonight; we made it hard on their D.”
Vokoun didn’t see this game as much of anything special, because so few ex-teammates were still around. But beating the Panthers still felt good, he admitted, and it felt even better to stay focused yet again while not facing a lot of pressure.
“It was a tough game. You don’t see anything and then you don’t know what’s going to happen. You got to get used to anything,” he said. “My job is still stop the puck. I’ll worry about that and trying to take all the other stuff out of it. If it’s two shots or 20, I’m trying to do my job.”
Vokoun did his job. Alexander Semin did his job, by scoring a goal and contributing defensively. Marcus Johansson did his job by chipping in on the power play.
It was a night of jobs-well-done for the Caps, but not too much celebration about a milestone that will likely be forgotten — Boudreau said — unless the Caps “do something special” this spring.
“We’ve got to enjoy it, but we have a couple really tough tests coming up. It’s only going to get harder down the road for us,” Vokoun said. “We said that all along our season’s going to get measured on playoff either success — or not.”
By playoff time, this 5-0-0 start could either be a distant memory or the start of something special.
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