SUNRISE, Fla. Beating Florida these days is nothing special. The Panthers are a down-on-their-luck team suffering through injuries to stars, not enough offense, coaching changes, etc.
But to do it when you’re the visiting team, when much of the star power from your club is missing because of injury or illness, when your goalie has to take shots of painkiller to play well, maybe it is something to yell about.
The Washington Capitals got a goal from Jeff Halpern 2:18 into the game last night and made that stand up, backing Olie Kolzig’s strong goaltending with a near-flawless defense en route to a 1-0 victory at the National Car Rental Center that ran the team’s unbeaten streak to three (2-0-1).
The shutout was Kolzig’s second of a subpar season and the 23rd of his career as he evened his record at 16-16-6. The shutout also was Kolzig’s fourth against Florida.
More important, it was Washington’s first road win of the calendar year and just the team’s third since Oct. 24. The Caps are now 6-14-3 away from MCI Center, a horrible record that has to improve if the team is to advance.
Washington played without Peter Bondra, Jaromir Jagr, Brendan Witt, Joe Sacco and Ulf Dahlen, all out short-term, and Calle Johansson and Steve Konowalchuk, both out long-term. The availability of any of the short-termers for tomorrow night’s game against Boston is not known.
Coach Ron Wilson was forced to use Plan B again, utilizing all the healthy players at his command eight defensemen and 10 forwards. He divided them up as he had in Friday night’s 3-3 tie against Toronto, five pairs of forwards, three pairs of defensemen and two rovers, mobile defensemen who would replace the center in sort of a high post position. Those slots were taken by Ken Klee and Sergei Gonchar for the second night in a row.
“It’s just out of necessity; we’ve got to use our imagination,” Wilson said, describing the unorthodox combinations that he said he first saw used while he was playing in Switzerland. “That’s probably the best we’ve played defensively all season long. That was pretty airtight. Maybe some of our young guys got a little nervous at the end when we turned the puck over, and there were a couple guys who were tired because we played [Friday] night.”
Whether this is a plan that would best utilize the talents of a Bondra and/or a Jagr remains to be seen, but for the short term it has been a success.
“We’ve been trying to figure what we should do to play on the road to improve our chances of success, especially defensively,” Wilson said. “All three periods tonight the guys knew what they were doing because of the experience they had gained [Friday] night. But the credit goes to them for getting the job done; they had to think and concentrate and focus, and the guys put together two real gritty performances.”
The goal that sealed the issue with 57:42 to play came off a broken play. In the end, Chris Simon passed through the top of the crease to Roberto Luongo’s right and there was Halpern, stick poised. The puck shot off the blade of his stick and he had his fourth game-winner of the season, only one off the team lead.
“No, I didn’t think one goal would stand up, but I was more concerned because I thought we had a ton of chances in the first half of the game and I thought we did a real good job, and to only be up 1-0 after that, that’s usually a recipe for disaster,” said Halpern.
Not last night.