Two nights after earning Dale Hunter his first win as an NHL head coach, the Washington Capitals lost a 5-4 decision to the Panthers in Hunters first game on the road. In what can only be described as a weird affair, starting with Hunters choice in goaltenders, the Capitals played an up and down affair, and if you’re a Caps optimist, you could say they didn’t lose the game, they just ran out of time to win it.

In each of Hunters first three games, the Capitals were stout on defense, allowing just two goals per game, but last night, Washington had no answer for the Florida Panthers, who looked like the 1980's Edmonton Oilers during the first half of the contest. The Capitals actually outshot the Panthers 32-30, but trailing by four goals on most nights in the NHL is too much to overcome

BAD CHOICE IN NET RESULTS IN POOR DEFENSIVE SHOWING:

Hunter's team looked lost at times in the new defensive system last evening, and it may have started with their lack of confidence in his choice to start Michael Neuvirth over Tomas Vokoun between the pipes. Hunters' philosophy is that the winning goaltender stays in net, until he loses, which meant Neuvirth, who looked good beating the Ottawa Senators on Saturday in Washington got the nod for the big early season divisional game.

Let’s hope Hunters not a coach based entirely on his own philosophies and principals because starting Neuvirth was a mistake. Vokoun was the obvious choice when you consider he played the previous three seasons for the Panthers and shut out his former team at Verizon Center, 3-0, on Oct. 18.

Players don't get up to play against their former teams do they? Former Washington Capitals winger Tomas Fleischman sure did last night. The former second round pick of the Detroit Red Wings, who spent six seasons in D.C., was instrumental in creating many chances for the Panthers against his former team.

Fleischman, who was traded to Washington by Detroit with Detroit's 1st round choice (Mike Green) in 2004 Entry Draft and Detroit's 4th round choice (Luke Lynes) in 2006 Entry Draft for Robert Lang, recorded one assist in the game.

The decision to start Neuvirth looked especially bad when Hunter allowed Neuvy to stay in the game after he allowed two soft Panther goals just 13 seconds apart early in the first period. The goals staked the Panthers to a 2-0 lead, but not every goal following that was Nuevy's fault. Capitals killer Sean Bergenheim, who torched the caps on many nights as a member of the Tamp Bay Lightning, beat not one, not two, not even three, but all four Washington players to the puck, and scored on a wrap around.

On the Panthers final goal of the game, former Capitals winger Tomas Fleischmann, skated through the middle filled with Caps players and delivered a perfect pass past defensive bystander Alex Ovechkin, who was a minus-2 on the night. Stephen Weiss, the recipient of the pass chipped the puck into a virtually empty net for the Panthers fifth and final goal of the night. 

The other former Capitals player on the Panthers Roster, Matt Bradley, who created a big stir during this past offseason with comments about Alex Semin, missed last nights with an upper body injury. Bradley has been out since Nov. 15 and is expected to be out until at least next week. 

If Hunters system is to play a 1-2-2 game that emphasizes responsibility throughout the neutral zone, while creating turnovers, than Washington forgot everything they learned about it last night. There was no responsibility in any zone as the Caps were once again seen playing as individuals instead of a team.

SPECIAL TEAMS PLAY NOT SO SPECIAL:

The Capitals undisciplined play led to six Florida power plays, three in the first 11 minutes of the game. Florida cashed in on three total last night to take a four goal lead in the game. Meanwhile, Washington could draw just two power plays of their own, and after failing to score on either, are now 2-for-50 in the last 13-plus games on the power play, a span that includes the team’s last three power play chances in a 5-2 loss to Dallas on Nov. 8. 

In fact, one of the Caps last two power play goals came as Washington had a 5-on-3 man-advantage. Washington has also allowed four shorthanded goals during that same span.

According to the teams website, Monday's loss marked the sixth time this season Washington has allowed more than one power play goal in the same game. Five of those games have come on the road, and the Caps are 0-5 in those contests.

There is no symmetry when the Caps have the extra man, and in fact, Washington has better puck movement when playing 5-on-5. 

This is an obvious area of concern for Dale Hunter, as the caps are now 22nd with the extra man, and 25th when down one in the NHL. Before Washington can even begin to think about succeeding in the playoffs, do I need to tell you that no team has even made the playoffs in the last ten years ranking that low in both categories?

CAPS DISCOPVER OFFENSE JUST A LITTLE TOO LATE:

The positive from Florida last night was the fact that Washington discovered their anemic offense could score more than two goals, as for just the third time in the last 15 games, the Caps scored more than three markers.

The two- third period tallies were the first time since Nov-21 that Washington scored twice in the final frame. The Caps got goals last evening from Mike Knuble (3), Cody Eakin (3), Brooks Laich (6), and the NHL's newest goal scoring machine, Jason Chimera, who notched his team leading 11th of the season.Knuble's goal was probably the one that makes you feel a sense of relief as a Caps fan. Knuble ended a 16-game goal scoring drought with his first period marker.

Mike Vogel reported that it was his longest dry spell in nearly a decade. He had a 17-game drought from Oct. 23-Dec. 22, 2001. A notoriously slow starter, Knuble had just four goals at this stage of the season a year ago, but finished with 24 to eclipse the 20-goal barrier for the eighth consecutive season. 

CLOSE ONLY MATTERS IN HORSESHOES AND HAND GRENADES:


If there was another positive, it was that the Capitals did not give up, "We battled, we get back in the third, inches away from tying it up," Hunter said. "The boys showed a lot of character that way."

However, these are very well paid professional, who shouldn't give up anyway. I understand its human nature when things are going wrong, but in the end, this was a loss the Caps really couldn't afford, even in early December. Heading into the contest, Washington trailed Florida by five points, so a win in regulation could have closed the lead to just three points. Instead the game ended up a four point swing for the Panthers, who now lead the Caps by seven in the Southeast

FROM THEIR MOUTH TO OUR EARS:

Tomas Vokoun on not getting the start vs. his former team:

“Those are the decisions coach makes,” said Vokoun, who traveled and stayed separately from the team so he could spend time with his wife and two daughters, who still live in Fort Lauderdale. “I’m a paid employee and I don’t make those kind of decisions. I’m a hockey player and I’m here to play games.”

Capitals Head Coach Dale Hunter on his team’s performance:

“It was too many penalties early and they jumped on us,” says Caps coach Dale Hunter. “It’s one of those things that some of them were … whatever you want to call them, it’s still a penalty. It doesn’t matter if it’s right or wrong in my eyes, it’s their eyes that count. They got three power play goals on us. That hurt. 

Karl Alzner on former Caps Tomas Fleischman’s play that set up the Panthers fifth goal:

“We were watching the puck too much,” Alzner said. “Kind of the same thing happened on their fifth goal — ultimately it was the winner. We were all kind of watching Fleischmann do his thing out there, and that’s what happens.”

Jason Chimera on Caps comeback:

"We got rolling, but we were a little too late," 

Panthers Head Coach Kevin Dineen on his teams performance:

"When you fess up, the truth is we did look at this as a big game for us," Florida coach Kevin Dineen said. "We looked at it as a test and a team that we aspire to compete with every night. They didn't see our best early in the year (a 3-0 loss at Washington on Oct. 18) and we felt we needed to come out and play a strong game and that was part of the game plan. We certainly did that."

NEXT GAME:

Wednesday at Ottawa Senators