Talk about following your boss’ orders.
Two nights after falling apart against the Penguins in Pittsburgh and one day after their general manager told them to stop taking penalties and keep the puck out of their net, the Capitals put together their most dominant performance of the season in a 5-0 win over the Florida Panthers at VerizonCenter.
Braden Holtby turned aside all 27 shots he faced for his fourth career shutout, Troy Brouwer netted a pair of goals and the Caps were a perfect 2-for-2 on the penalty kill as the Caps ended their three-game losing streak.
Several players said a players-only meeting helped put the Caps in the right frame of mind.
“The time is right now; we have to turn it around,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who scored his fourth goal of the season.
“Everybody was so focused today. We had a meeting and we said we have to bring our energy and do what you do best. It was about mental play. It’s an important win for us, a divisional game. It’s one game and it’s over. We have to be focused on next game.”
That will come Tuesday night in Sunrise when the Caps try to make it two in a row against the team directly above them in the Eastern Conference standings.
After losing 10 of their first 12 games, Ovechkin said there was a different mindset in the Capitals’ locker room on Saturday night.
“To be honest with you I had a feeling right away we would play well,” he said. “The intensity was unbelievable. Everybody was focusing and not joking around. That’s how we have to play. The whole team was better today.”
It started with Holtby, who entered the game with a 1-4-0 record and one of the league’s worst goals-against averages [4.73]. On Friday, Caps general manager George McPhee challenged his goalies to be better and Holtby was from the start.
“Other people saying that doesn’t even come close to the pressure we put on ourselves in this room,” Holtby said. “We knew it would come around sooner or later.”
Holtby stopped a 2-on-1 rush by Kris Versteeg in the opening period, then assisted on Brouwer’s second goal of the season before completing the night with 27 saves.
Holtby’s assist was a thing of beauty. With the Caps on the power play, the Panthers dumped the puck in on Holtby and went for a line change. But as three Panthers headed for the bench Holtby fired a 110-foot pass to Brouwer, who blasted a shot past Jose Theodore for a 2-0 lead.
“He moves the puck as well as any goalie and for him to have the vision to see up the ice and make that pass is pretty special,” Brouwer said. “Those aren’t plays that you plan.”
The Caps kept the pressure on the Panthers by rolling all four lines. No line was more dominant that the trio of Joel Ward, Eric Fehr and Mathieu Perreault, who combined for two goals and three assists.
“They had a great game,” Oates said. “I thought Eric played well and I wanted to play him some more minutes and Matty came in and added some offense.”
The question now is how the Caps will respond after putting up their biggest game of the season against a team that was playing its fourth road game in seven nights.
“If we use it to our advantage it can put a lot of confidence in our team,” Holtby said. “But that’s only talk. We need to be sure we come to work [Monday] and make sure this road trip in Florida we improve on every game and we’re not satisfied.”