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Holtby helps Caps hold off Panthers, all four lines contribute after matchup adjustment, more

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps /

Hail Holtby - Wednesday's Thanksgiving Eve game pitted a pair of former Vezina Trophy-winning goaltenders, and one of them - Washington's Braden Holtby - turned in a strong outing, never giving up a goal on a shot that could have put his team behind on the scoreboard.

The other - Florida's Sergei Bobrovsky - stopped only 16 of the 20 shots he faced on the night, leading his future Hockey Hall of Fame coach to call him out at night's end.

"I think every game is different, and goalies get scrutinized to a different level," acknowledges Panthers coach Joel Quenneville. "But in a game like tonight - on the road against a good team - you need timely saves, you need big saves, and that's got to be the difference."

Earning his 12th win of the season (12-4-2) and the 12th of his career against Florida (12-2-2), Holtby saw a steady diet of shots throughout the game, at least a dozen in each of the game's three periods.

Wednesday's game marked the second time this season the Caps yielded at least a dozen shots in all three periods; they also did so in a 5-3 win over the Blackhawks in Chicago on Oct. 20.

"That's him playing some of his best hockey," says Caps center Lars Eller. "Especially today, we really needed him to come up with that. We probably wouldn't get out of here with two points if he didn't play to that level. He played amazing, He was our best player."

Video: Ovechkin, Capitals hold off Panthers

Lay It On The Line - For most of the first 40 minutes of Wednesday's game, Washington's best chances were brought about by its top line of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson. Through two periods, the Caps had only a dozen shots on net, and seven of them came from that unit. Washington's defensemen put three shots on net; its second and third line accounted for one shot each. Ovechkin's goal late in the first gave the Caps a 1-0 lead.

Richard Panik issued the lone third line's lone shot in the first 40 minutes, and he put it right in the top far corner of the cage with exactly a minute left in the second, giving the Caps a 2-1 lead that would last less than half a minute.

The Caps entered the game with just nine goals at 5-on-5 in their previous seven games, and they were struggling against the Florida forecheck, and they also had difficulty gaining the attack zone on occasions when they were able to get out of their end cleanly. It's been rare for Washington to be outplayed territorially this season for so many of the game's 60 minutes, but that's how Wednesday's game was.

But the Caps got resourceful in the third, and it paid off. First, Caps coach Todd Reirden adjusted his matchups; he started the game with Lars Eller's line going up against Florida's top unit - centered by Sasha Barkov - and that wasn't working.

"I had to change the matchups I had for the first two periods. I was going with a particular matchup and I switched off of it. Sometimes you have to give a different look to the opposition. Obviously, I have the home change, and I switched to a different look, and was able to free up some of the other guys.

"But that's the game within a game that wasn't working out for us through 40 [minutes], and it got better the last 21 minutes."

Asked whether it wasn't working offensively or defensively, Reirden was succinct.

"C, all of the above," he says. "It wasn't working at all, either way."

At the outset of the third, Reirden went to Kuznetsov's trio against Barkov. Freed from their responsibility of checking Barkov's formidable trio, the Eller line scored on its second shift of the third period, putting the Caps back up, 3-2.

Less than seven minutes later, Brendan Leipsic and the fourth line was heard from. Suddenly, the Caps had an elusive two-goal lead - their first since Nov. 18 against Anaheim - and all four lines were on the board.

Video: FLA@WSH: Leipsic goes five-hole

Down On The Farm - The AHL Hershey Bears were also at home on Thanksgiving Eve, hosting the Providence Bruins in a wild one. The Offensively challenged Bears scored six goals, but still weren't able to get two points in a 7-6 shootout loss.

Mike Sgarbossa scored his eighth of the season on a Hershey power play in the first, getting help from Matt Moulson and Garrett Pilon in staking the Bears to a 1-0 lead. The Bears were able to double - and then triple - that lead in the first minute of the second period.

Fifty-two seconds into the middle period, Brian Pinho netted his third goal of the season with help from Shane Gersich, giving Hershey a 2-0 lead. A mere seven seconds later, Joe Snively scored his fourth of the season, from Pilon and Alex Alexeyev, to make it a 3-0 game.

After the P-Bruins scored twice in less than a minute to make it 3-2, Erik Burgdoerfer scored his second of the season from Philippe Maillet to give Hershey a 4-2 lead at 7:21 of the second. Providence responded on the power play to cut the lead to one, but Maillet netted his third of the campaign with help from Liam O'Brien and Tyler Lewington at 12:33, closing out the scoring in the second and enabling the Bears to take a 5-3 lead to the third.

But Providence scored the next three goals, tallying three times in the first 11 minutes of the third to take a 6-5 lead. It took Snively's second of the night at 16:08 of the final frame - from Sgarbossa and Pilon - to force overtime and earn a point for the Bears.

Providence prevailed in the shootout, dropping Bears goalie Pheonix Copley (21 saves) to 4-5-4 on the season. Hershey is back in action on Saturday when it hosts the Belleville Senators at Giant Center.

By The Numbers - John Carlson led the Caps with 23:56 in ice time … Ovechkin led the Caps with five shots on net and seven shot attempts … Dmitry Orlov led the Caps with four hits and four blocked shots … Nic Dowd won 8 of 11 face-offs (73 percent).

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