For the second night in a row, Washington Capitals rookie goalie Michael Neuvirth gave up four goals in 15 shots, all in the first period. And for the second night in a row, coach Bruce Boudreau called on veteran Jose Theodore was called on to relieve the youngster at the start of the second period.
Only on this night against the Florida Panthers, Theodore was excellent in net, holding the Panthers at four goals, allowing his talented teammates to chip away at opposite number Tomas Vokoun.
Theo stopped all 15 shots he faced in regulation, and was outstanding in overtime. On three successive odd-man rushes, including a one-on-one breakaway, Theodore came up big, steering away everything sent in his direction.
Eventually the Caps tied the game, sent it to overtime, and won on a seven-shot shootout, when Vokoun's Czech National teammate Tomas Fleischmann beat him to cap a tremendous comeback and steal the extra point from a stunned Panther squad.
Jason Chimera came up with a "Gordie Howe Hat Trick", with a goal, assist and fight, as he duked it out with Gregory Campbell in the second period.
Alex Ovechkin banged home the Caps third goal, 27 seconds into the third period, as the Florida D could not get the handle on a bouncing puck. It's his 29th goal of the season, and break a little scoring drought for the two-time Hart Trophy winner.
Ovie's linemate, Nicklas Backstrom, tied the game midway through the third. Defenseman Mike Green, who had a rough game against Tampa Bay Tuesday night, skated in from the point and directed the puck toward the net, where Backstrom got enough of his stick on the puck to flick it past a down Vokoun.
The bigger concern for Boudreau, however, has to be the poor play of his team in the first periods of the last two games. The Caps have surrendered eight goals in the last two first periods, and only exceptional goaltending and elite goal-scoring skills rescued the game tonight.
For most of the season, the Caps have been able to dominate in the first period, outscoring the competition easily. But against their Southeast Division foes the last two nights they just haven't been able to get out of the box.
Was it the result of starting a talented rookie who might have been suffering a confidence problem? Could be. Neuvirth looked outstanding in the 8-1 win over Atlanta, but confidence is a funny, fleeting thing.
Is this just a bump in the road? The last two games of a three-game roadie might be enough to explain the sluggish starts. The Caps play the next nine of their 11 at the Verizon Center, so that should be enough to cure that little problem.
Is it just something that happens in an 82-game schedule? Most likely.
But if it isn't, Boudreau will get to the bottom of it. This team is much too talented to struggle for long stretches, especially against their less-talented Southeast Division rivals.