SUNRISE, Fla. | Playing without Alex Ovechkin is one thing, but the Washington Capitals were losing a player a period Friday night.
Thanks to a three-point night from Brian Pothier, 28 saves by Jose Theodore and some excellent late work on the penalty kill, the short-handed Caps ended a three-game skid with a 4-1 victory against the Florida Panthers at BankAtlantic Center.
“You can’t replace Alex Ovechkin, and you can’t really replace Mike Green - there’s only two guys in the league that do what they do,” Pothier said. “We had to play a different style of hockey tonight. We had to play really intelligent hockey. We couldn’t give up chances, and our goaltender had to be good. I thought we did all those things.”
Ovechkin missed his second game with an upper-body strain, and the Caps lost defensemen Green, Jeff Schultz and Shaone Morrisonn during this contest. Green took only four shifts in the first period before leaving with an upper-body injury. Schultz went to the dressing after two shifts in the second and also did not return because of a lower-body problem.
To make matters worse, Morrisonn was assessed a five-minute major penalty for boarding and ejected with 8:18 left in the third, meaning the Caps were down to four defensemen - and only three who started the game on the blue line.
“It’s a simple game, and when you sacrifice you get guys hurt - but that’s also how you win,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “That’s why good teams usually have to play with a lot of injuries because their guys are willing to pay the price to win.”
Boudreau said Morrisonn could be suspended by the league because the defenseman was essentially on probation from multiple infractions last season. Morrisonn was assessed a checking-from-behind major and a game misconduct Feb. 7 against Florida.
The coach wasn’t sure about Green’s or Schultz’s availability for Saturday’s game against the Panthers at Verizon Center.
“We’ve got a basic hospital in there right now,” Boudreau said. “[Morrisonn] had to go, I don’t know if it was either 15 or 20 games, without a five-minute major. … He was basically on probation. We got a letter at the start of the year.”
Having Tyler Sloan in the lineup proved to be a huge break for the Caps. Sloan, playing forward with Eric Fehr sidelined by a rib injury, moved to his natural spot on defense to start the second period because of Green’s injury.
After forging a 3-0 lead, it looked as if the Caps might be in the middle of another meltdown in the third period. Nathan Horton cut the lead to 3-1 with a power-play goal at 10:28, but the Panthers were unable to convert with five minutes of extra-man time. Brendan Morrison added his second of the night into an empty net to seal the win.
“A little bit, but you’ve just got to push that out of your mind,” Sloan said of the “here we go again” mentality. “Bruce challenged us yesterday and again today, and I thought everybody stepped up. I think that’s what this team needed. … Everybody rose to the challenge, and we got it done.”
Added Pothier: “We were a desperate group out there. It was sort of a ragtag group. I think that was the first time I’ve killed a penalty all year. … We knew what was at stake, and it was a big kill. I thought we responded with sacrificing our bodies and blocking shots and being in good position.”
Sloan scored for the second straight game to put the Caps in front with the lone goal in the opening period before switching to defense.
After scoring once in his first 32 NHL games, he now has three goals in 34 contests. He had a total of three in the past two seasons (123 regular- and postseason games) for the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League.
“He’s our swingman. He’s our Deion Sanders,” Pothier said. “He’s got such a great skill set, and he’s such a smart player.”
Morrison made it a two-goal advantage in the second. Brooks Laich sent a perfect pass through traffic to Morrison, who held the puck and waited for Florida netminder Tomas Vokoun to drop to the ice before snapping a shot just under the crossbar for his fifth of the season at 10:46.
Pothier, a healthy scratch Wednesday night in New Jersey, pushed the lead to three at 6:56 of the final period. With the Caps on the power play, Pothier blasted a one-timer from the left point on a setup from Nicklas Backstrom.
“That was Brian’s best game of the year, and that’s what he’s good at - jumping into the play and making plays,” Boudreau said. “Especially when Mike [Green] goes out in the first [period] - to have another mobile defenseman step up and do that was great.”