SUNRISE, Fla. — For so long Friday night, the Washington Capitals' top three lines couldn't do much. They were on their heels or forced to play dump-and-chase hockey and fight in the neutral zone.
Meanwhile, the fourth line of Jay Beagle, Jeff Halpern and Joel Ward actually did something. They didn't score, but they created a ton of scoring chances and sustained pressure, which was a big part of eventually cracking the Florida Panthers in a 2-1 victory.
"I thought Beags and Wardo did a fantastic job of holding onto pucks down low and not just holding onto it but getting away from checks," Halpern said. "We were able to hold pucks on cycles and get it to the point, get shots on net. We had good chances. Again, it's disappointing we didn't score, but I felt we did a good job."
It was an important element of the game: generating some momentum and possessing the puck for extended stretches. The trio kept the puck along the boards in the attacking zone often, forcing Panthers defensemen into long-winded shifts.
"I thought they really worked hard, they cycled the puck, they had great scoring chances," coach Dale Hunter said. "They cycled and they cycled and created scoring chances — a lot of point shots. That's a lot of pressure on the D down low."
Just putting pucks on net isn't an issue for the Caps. They know they can crank them from the blue line to pad the stats, but what Beagle (four shots), Halpern (four shots) and Ward (one shot) did was make for quality scoring chances.
It almost didn't matter that they didn't puck the puck past goaltender Jose Theodore. Consistently, they had the puck and were making things interesting.
"Obviously you'd like to score, but getting chances — you know you're doing things right when you're getting chances," Beagle said. "It starts to get frustrating when the chances aren't coming, and you find yourself playing in your zone. That was a fun game to play and the chances kept coming, and they're eventually going to go in."
Hunter lauded Theodore's play against the fourth line and, really, his entire team. But because the Beagle, Halpern and Ward played so well, the Caps' coach who tends to roll three lines, kept putting the fourth grouping on the ice.
"That's one of the lines I used right up to the end," Hunter said.
This was the first time in 35 games under Hunter that every single Caps player saw at least 10 minutes of ice time. Yet there's the oddity that Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin are the only forwards to score goals in the past four games.
Getting more secondary production is certainly an emphasis moving forward, starting with Saturday night's game at the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"We had a meeting this morning and everyone's got to chip in and be offensive, and we can't just rely on the skilled guys," Beagle said.
For at least the fourth line, Friday night's showing might be a good sign of things to come.
"We were trying to create opportunities, and we were close to getting some goals there — just keeping it down low, and it was a fun game to play," Beagle said. "It's huge when you play down low and you cycle. You wear down their defense and you create momentum for the team, and that's what we're out there to do — energy and get some chances and hopefully a couple of those start going in soon."
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