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Caps 6, Panthers 5 (Overtime): Five Observations

1. Well, that’s one way to get your season back on track, I suppose. Fall behind by two goals late in the third period on the road against the Eastern Conference’s 14th best team and then just score twice in the final five minutes to tie it up and win in overtime. It’s so easy!

At this point the Caps are beggars for points and absolutely can’t be choosers about how they win. But if coach Adam Oates is as concerned about the process as he is about wins – well, he probably didn’t sleep all that comfortably on Tuesday night. Still, at this point he’ll take it and move on.

Washington (4-8-1, nine points) remains in 15th place in the conference with one more game played than the New York Islanders, who also have nine points, and a point back of Florida, which is now 13th. The Caps are five points behind the No. 8 seed New York Rangers and six behind Southeast Division leader Carolina. There is plenty more work to do starting with Thursday’s game at Tampa Bay.

2.   Kind of a mixed bag for Alex Ovechkin on Tuesday. He had a bad turnover that led directly to a Panthers goal in the first period. Maybe he thought Tomas Fleischmann was still a teammate? He was also on the ice for Shawn Matthias’ one-timer later in that period. Not sure I’d assign blame to Ovechkin on the play – he has to be aware of defenseman Dmitry Kulikov behind him – but Matthias found a soft spot between Ovechkin and Jason Chimera at the edge of the left circle.

Ovechkin made his contributions, though. He was engaged physically early – always a good sign – with what appeared to be a clean hit on Panthers forward Kris Versteeg. He obviously didn’t think so because the two men fought when Versteeg returned to the game. Ovechkin was credited with four hits, for what it’s worth. In the second period he assisted on Matt Hendricks’s beauty of a backhanded goal with a sweet backhanded pass out front. Great play all around.

And, of course, he tied the game with 2:49 left to go in classic fashion – ripping a shot off a faceoff win past Florida goalie Scott Clemmensen. For all the heat he took after recording two goals and two assists through eight games, Ovechkin now has goals in three straight and seven points in his last five games.

3. Speaking of Chimera: Seems pretty clear Oates is just going to roll with whoever is playing well at that first-line left wing spot. It’s probably not a coincidence that after Matthias’ goal, Hendricks was moved to the top line shortly thereafter. Chimera skated the rest of the night on the fourth line with Jay Beagle and Joey Crabb - and was on for a goal against with them, too. He saw no action on special teams and skated a game-low 5:43. The last time Chimera played so few minutes in a game he wasn’t ejected or injured? March 12, 2004 with the Edmonton Oilers.

Look, George McPhee made a conscious decision to allocate the dollars he could have given Alex Semin later in the summer to Mike Ribeiro, whom he acquired in a draft-day trade on June 22. Semin has three goals and seven assists for Carolina. Ribeiro has five goals and 12 assists at center – the more important position. McPhee filled one glaring hole at center and created a lack of scoring depth on the wing by doing it. The Caps hoped they could fill that internally or with cheaper free agents. But it might be time to peel off some of that surplus depth on the blueline and a prospect for another option on the wing. Obviously, the pending return of Brooks Laich (groin) helps. But you can’t exactly count on a guy with that type of injury, either. Hendricks scored on Tuesday and Chimera has played top-line minutes as recently as last season. But long-term it doesn’t seem especially fair to either player.

4. Was Braden Holtby good last night? Honestly – I’m just asking. Hard to tell with so many weird bounces. The first Florida goal clicked off defenseman John Erskine’s skate. Matthias had a golden chance in the high slot and Holtby had his two defensemen screening him. Peter Mueller wasn’t tied up in front by Crabb and – with Holtby covering the right post and the shooter – his deflection went into the left corner. No chance there.

Holtby made a right-pad save on Jonathan Huberdeau, but couldn’t stop the rebound poke home for Florida’s fourth goal. The last one? That was a problem. Holtby looked shaky covering the post as winger Jack Skille drove in from the left wing at a bad angle. But what was a relatively harmless play broke bad when Holtby couldn’t handle the puck and then tried to punch it clear. Instead Drew Shore batted it home out of the air a millisecond before the referee blew the whistle to halt play. After a review, that one stood. Probably the goal Holtby would want back the most. It put Washington down 5-3.

5. Eric Fehr, everybody! Not only has he played well enough to earn third-line minutes, he’s actually contributing with them. After going scoreless through the first eight games, Fehr has a goal and two assists in the last two. How? He’s playing a grittier game. As soon as he saw linemate Mathieu Perreault win a battle against two Panthers in the slot and poke the puck out to the point, Fehr took off from the right boards and skated hard to the net. This was even before defenseman Mike Green had time to tee up a pass/shot. When he finally did Fehr was alone in front for the tip past Clemmensen to pull Washington within 5-4.

Not to go unnoticed was his work on defenseman Karl Alzner’s goal in the second period. Joel Ward won the faceoff, but Fehr is the one who quickly pushed it over to Alzner for the one-timer. Fehr played 13:06 – his second game in a row over 13 minutes.

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