Kevin Dineen benched his highest-paid forward Saturday night in trying to light a spark under his struggling team.
Dineen got the effort he was looking for; he just didn’t get the extra point in the standings.
Washington went 3 for 3 in the shootout to pull out a 3-2 victory over the Panthers, the Capitals’ eighth consecutive win over their former Southeast Division rival.
It was a much different scene than Friday’s listless home loss to St. Louis in which Dineen seemed about done with his current group of players.
Never miss a local story.
“It was such a different game with the tone, the compete level,” said Dineen, who sat winger Kris Versteeg for the first time in his NHL career.
Florida trailed for much of the game yet tied the score at 2 when former Capitals winger Tomas Fleischmann fired an off-line shot that squeaked past Michal Neuvirth with 2:38 left.
The Panthers got a single point in the standings for the third time in their past five games. But Florida has now gone without a win in its past five games.
“We have to keep playing this way and the wins will start coming,” Fleischmann said. “We took a step forward. We played a full 60 minutes, played well. We’ll get two points next game.”
Washington, which is now 18-4-1 against the Panthers since the start of the 2009-10 season, took a 1-0 lead when Nicklas Backstrom slid into the slot and fired a shot past goalie Scott Clemmensen with 3:19 left in the opening period.
The Panthers ended up outplaying the Capitals for much of the period, yet Washington found a way to score on one of its rare chances to lead at the first break.
“I thought we played great, especially in this building under the circumstances,” said Clemmensen, who stopped 21 shots in his first start of the season.
“I personally felt a little rusty, but they played great in front of me and that allowed me to get into it.”
The Panthers tied the score 8:20 into the second when Scottie Upshall picked off a puck at center ice and deftly landed a pass on the tape of Jesse Winchester’s stick. Winchester made a nice move and dove to beat Neuvirth.
The Caps, however, broke the tie just 36 seconds later and led 2-1 going into the third.
Florida scored on its final power-play opportunity of the night with Fleischmann breaking the Panthers’ 0-for-5 run during the game.
The Panthers’ penalty kill had to be good as Fleischmann took a holding call in overtime.
The Capitals were perfect in the shootout, with the Panthers getting just one goal from Aleksander Barkov as they are now 1-3 in shootouts this season.
Versteeg was visibly upset with Dineen’s decision and said this was the first time in his NHL career that he had been a healthy scratch. Versteeg added: “I’ve played for some pretty good teams.”
“Obviously, I’m being used as an example,” Versteeg continued. “Hopefully, the guys rally around that and win. It’s tough. I’ve never been put in this situation. It’s not fun. It’s a kick to the midsection.”
Dineen said his decision was based on Versteeg’s play. Versteeg has just two goals this season and played less than 11 minutes in Friday’s loss to the Blues.
“That’s indicative of his play the past week,” Dineen said of Versteeg’s shrinking minutes. “He’s looked pretty frustrated the past three games and honestly hasn’t played well. When he’s at his best, he’ll be a big contributor to this team.”
• Sean Bergenheim was sat as a precaution. The Panthers don’t want him pushing things too much by playing in the second game of a back-to-back set.
Bergenheim missed all of last season and much of the first month of this season after having numerous surgeries relating to his abdominal core.