SUNRISE, Fla. — An announced crowd of 15,231 Wednesday night at BankAtlantic Center included many tickets sold that went unused. It didn’t seem to matter that the Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers were fighting for first place in the Southeast Division, as the odd confluence of an 8 p.m. start and Alex Ovechkin’s suspension likely played a role in a light crowd.
And a role in the Caps’ 4-2 loss apparently, too. Energy was lacking all night and the Caps struggled to scrounge enough of it up.
“I found that it was quiet; it was kind of tough to get up for the game here. I don’t know why. I think I have an idea why,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “The crowd was quiet, yeah. So I think that has a little bit to do with it, but we should’ve created our own energy because it was such a big game, and we didn’t do a good enough job doing it.”
Even when the Panthers took a 1-0 lead on an odd goal scored by Mikael Samuelsson from the neutral zone on Michal Neuvirth, the crowd was lifeless. On the ice, there wasn’t the kind of physicality and intensity you might expect from two teams gearing up for a tight race for the division crown.
Count Alzner among those surprised the Caps couldn’t generate energy.
“Some teams, it’s just really easy to get up for because the team that they are — the Canadiens, the Rangers,” he said. “Those games are really easy. Sometimes here in Florida it’s difficult to get up.”
Brooks Laich was visibly but calmly angry after this loss, which dropped the Caps from the third seed to ninth in the Eastern Conference.
“We just have to be better,” Laich said. “I’m sick and tired of losing on the road.”
Perhaps one of the reasons for the wide gap between home success and road failures has to do with an energetic Verizon Center crowd that the Caps genuinely seem to draw from.
While that might be a fine excuse at the New York Islanders or even the last-place Carolina Hurricanes, it doesn’t seem acceptable against the now Southeast-leading Panthers.
“Both teams knew how important the game was, and definitely everybody — they’re playing to win, we’re playing to win,” coach Dale Hunter said. “Whoever executes the best is going to win.”