Mixed Bag – Tuesday night’s 4-3 loss to the Lightning in Tampa Bay had its share of pluses and minuses for the Capitals.
On the plus side: the Caps scored the game’s first goal and scored just their fifth first-period goal in their last 14 road games.
The line of Matt Hendricks, Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer started for Washington and established a strong tone that it maintained throughout the game. Ostensibly cobbled together as a checking line three games ago in Pittsburgh, the trio was Washington’s most consistent creator of scoring chances on Tuesday, and it accounted for two of the Capitals’ three goals.
The Laich line also accounted for 13 of the Capitals’ 29 shots on goal for the game
Tomas Vokoun’s play in goal (a bit more on that a bit later) aided the Caps’ cause in picking up a point.
Mathieu Perreault contributed one of those goals, his fifth in as many games. He now has eight goals on the season, a single-season career best. Perreault notched seven goals in 35 games for Washington last season. He has eight goals in 31 games thus far this season. Perreault’s 14 points in 2011-12 matches his total from 2010-11, also a career high.
Hendricks scored his second goal of the season and first since Dec. 26. After Laich fully extended himself to make a diving one-armed pass to Hendricks, the Caps winger whiffed on a wrist shot try. But he maintained possession of the puck, and fired a dart of a blind backhander that found the top right corner of the net to put the Caps on top late in the first period.
“Brooksie made an outstanding play,” says Hendricks, “a wonderful second-effort to get the puck over to me. I went to shoot it; I don’t know if it jumped or if I just missed the puck or what happened. I knew [Laich] was going to the net and I knew [Brouwer] was going to the net, so I just wanted to spin around and throw it back on. It found the back of the net.
“It’s been a while, so it felt good.”
Caps rookie defenseman Dmitry Orlov cracked the 20-minute barrier for the first time in his 31-game NHL career. Orlov skated 21:39 on the night, fourth among all Washington blueliners.
Washington came back from a 3-1 deficit to earn a point, and it earned that point after trailing 3-2 heading into the third period.
Speaking of which, the Caps picked up a point. That’s potentially significant, because the Lightning are trying to chase down the top three teams in the Southeast. Tampa Bay still has three games remaining with Washington, including two in Tampa. The Lightning trails the Caps by eight points now; it could have been seven.
The Caps moved into sole possession of the top spot in the Southeast Division while Florida dropped into ninth in the Eastern Conference standings. Wednesday’s game against the Panthers in Sunrise is a big one.
On the minus side: the Caps lost a one-goal game. And on Tampa Bay’s second goal, Lightning forward Vincent Lecavalier was clearly offsides. Both a tripping and an interference call could have been made against the Bolts on that play, but all three violations were missed. That turned out to be a tough call in a one-goal game, but Caps’ coach Dale Hunter was philosophical about it.
“I heard it was interference,” begins Hunter, “And offsides. That’s one of those things where everybody makes mistakes on that ice. And on the bench too; I do too. It’s one of those things where mistakes were made and the video can pick it up.”
Caps defensemen Roman Hamrlik and John Carlson had a tough night at the office. Hamrlik was minus-3 and Carlson minus-4 at game’s end. Carlson played 26:01 on the night and played better than that negative integer would indicate. Hamrlik struggled and skated just 15:52 as a result. It was his lowest ice time total since he logged 15:18 in Colorado on Dec. 17.
After gaining a rare early lead on the road, the Caps were unable to nurse that advantage to the first intermission. Washington has held a lead after the game’s first 20 minutes just three times in 24 road games this season.
“Anytime you lose, it’s hard,” says Hendricks. “Tomas played outstanding; he made some really big saves for us. To not come out with a win is tough, but you saw a lot of energy tonight throughout the group. You saw a lot of commitment and we got one point. It’s not good enough for this club. We’re not satisfied, but it was a battle tonight.
“It’s a tough loss. But we get a point and we look forward to tomorrow.”
Washington visits Florida on Wednesday in a game that will determine the leader of the Southeast Division, for one night anyway.
Swing Save – Vokoun made a stunning, highlight reel save on Lightning forward Vincent Lecavalier in overtime, but from a standings standpoint, he made a bigger one on Steven Stamkos early in the third period.
Stamkos, the league’s leading goal scorer with 33 after his Tuesday overtime game-winner, swooped in all alone on a breakaway only to be walled off by Vokoun. That save kept the Caps within a goal; if Vokoun doesn’t stop Stamkos there, the Bolts win in regulation and he never makes the overtime stop on Lecavalier.
As it was, Brouwer scored the tying tally just a few minutes after Vokoun’s big swing save.
Bolt Beater – Brouwer’s third-period goal enabled Washington to draw even and come away with a point. Brouwer is second on the team with 15 goals, and five of those have come at Tampa Bay’s expense.
Back In The Saddle – Caps forward Joel Rechlicz suited up and skated in his first NHL game since April 11, 2010 when he was a member of the New York Islanders.
Rechlicz only skated two shifts totaling 1:49 on the night. Both of those shifts came in the first period.
“He was a presence out there,” says Hunter of Rechlicz. “There was no nonsense; we all played hockey.”
That’s true. For one thing, you didn’t see Lightning winger Steve Downie going around and trying to fight someone like Caps defenseman Karl Alzner, as was the case when the two teams last met on Jan. 13. Perhaps it was coincidence, but Downie seemed to dial back his physicality a bit. He was credited with one hit in his 18:43 of work on Tuesday.
Rested or Rusted? – The last time the Capitals went five straight days without taking the ice, it was because it was still summer and training camp hadn’t started yet. The Caps and Lightning had a chance to recharge their individual batteries over the break, but the first 10 minutes of the game seemed a shade on the sluggish side.
“You could tell the legs were a little bit sluggish,” says Hendricks. “The first period felt great and you could kind of see the tempo of the game slow down a little bit. Both teams worked through that; they both went through the break.”
By The Numbers –Dennis Wideman led the Caps with 28:37 in ice time … Marcus Johansson skated 4:41 of the six minutes in which Washington enjoyed the man-advantage … Hendricks led the Caps with seven hits … Hamrlik led the caps with three blocked shots … Lightning goalie Mathieu Garon collected his first assist of the season – a secondary helper – on Stamkos’ game-winner … Pavel Kubina led the Lightning with four hits and four blocked shots.