Shot In The Foot – Seeking to put together a modest two-game winning “streak” for the first time since they won three straight one-goal decisions on home ice more than a month ago, the Caps needed to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in their own barn on Saturday.
The task proved to be too much for the Caps, who were guilty of beating themselves in this one, a 2-1 loss to the Lightning.
Washington never led in the contest, surrendering the game’s first goal just 2:10 into the first frame when Caps defenseman Dmitry Orlov’s ill-advised pass first fell into enemy hands, then fell behind Caps goalie Tomas Vokoun seconds later. Lightning forward Tom Pyatt pounced on it and punched it across the goal line to give the Bolts a lead they would not relinquish.
Caps forward Matt Hendricks made an uncharacteristic turnover at the Tampa Bay blueline early in the second, and the worst result ensued for Washington. Lightning winger Steven Stamkos – the league’s leading goal-scorer – scooped up the puck and then swooped in all alone on Vokoun, beating the Caps goaltender to make it 2-0.
The Capitals had plenty of time in which to mount a comeback, and the recent experience of having done exactly that the night before in Florida. But after being on the receiving end of the game’s first two power plays, the Caps took the next five penalties of the game. Washington committed two offensive zone fouls in the third that helped short-circuit its comeback bid, and the Caps were also penalized for having too many men on the ice.
For the last several games, the Caps have been effective at forechecking and directing pucks toward the net. Although they did so more than the Lightning tonight, they frequently overpassed on a sloppy sheet of ice and tried to make the perfect play rather than opting for the meat and potatoes option of simply firing pucks on Lightning goalie Mathieu Garon, creating traffic and trying to generate rebound chances.
“They clog up the middle real well,” says Caps winger Troy Brouwer. “Their d-men block a lot of shots. They kind of play in front of the forward in front of the net to try and cut those pucks off. We had to find ways to tray and get more pucks to the net. Last game against Florida, I think we had 41 shots or so directed at the net and tonight we were in the 20s. We had a couple breakdowns that led to goals. We had a couple turnovers and that was our demise tonight.”
Brooks Laich halved the Tampa Bay lead with his 11th goal of the season at 9:31 of the second period, and still the Caps had plenty of time remaining with which to get the equalizer. But Washington did not get another shot on net for the rest of the second period. The Caps’ went 16 minutes and 22 seconds before testing Garon again.
“We talk about playing good defensive hockey and we always talk about not giving them anything easy,” says Laich. “If they’re going to get a chance, [make them] earn it. But those things happen. Guys are trying to make plays. You’re playing against some good teams, too. We’ve just got to be a little better with the puck and control it a little better. Certainly tonight we didn’t do as good a job as we did [Friday] night getting pucks to the net.
“We weren’t in our zone much. I didn’t think we gave up too many good chances at all. But we had to do a better job pushing the envelope offensively. There were shots that we turned down. Passes weren’t as good. We got chances, and we missed the net. We needed to do a better job offensively to try and score.”
The Capitals were guilty of a dozen giveaways to Tampa Bay’s three according to the final and official game summary.
Green Day – Caps defenseman Mike Green returned to the lineup just over a month after undergoing sports hernia surgery. He skated 14:14 on the night, including 44 seconds of power play time and 34 seconds of shorthanded ice time.
Green played exactly four minutes in the first frame, and needed some time to shake off the rust and get up to speed. A healthy Green can usually skate 25 minutes or upwards on a nightly basis, but the Caps are trying to ease him back into the lineup to stay.
“I’m obviously not used to that,” says Green of the lesser workload, “not only physically but mentally, That was the biggest challenge for tonight. But after I got going in the first period, going into the second period I felt better.”
Tonight’s game was the 58th of the season for the Capitals, and just the 12th for Green in 2011-12.
“I was fine,” says Green of his return. “I was surprised. I didn’t know how I would feel out there. The game is so quick. But after that first period I felt fine.”
Hopefully, Green will gradually be able to assume more of an ice time workload as he readjusts to regular duty. It has been more than a year since he has been healthy for more than seven successive contests.
“I’d like to get playing a little bit more as quick as possible, but it’s not up to me,” notes Green.
Green’s return came in Tampa, in the same building where he established an NHL record for defensemen by scoring a goal in eight straight games on Feb. 14, 2009.
Lifetime, Green has nine goals and 24 points in 34 career games against the Lightning. He has six goals and 11 points in 18 career games in Tampa Bay.
Not knowing how much ice time Green would be able to assume in his first game action since Jan. 7 at San Jose, the Caps’ coaching brass elected to dress seven defensemen for Saturday’s game against the Lightning. That meant scratching a forward, and Jay Beagle drew the short straw in that regard.
After Friday’s 2-1 win over the Panthers in Florida, deciding which forward to pull out of the lineup had to be a difficult choice. All played well, and the fourth line of Beagle, Jeff Halpern and Joel Ward was especially effective right from their first shift of the night. Earning just over 10 minutes of ice time, the trio combined to account for nine shots on net and nine hits.
The Caps could have used the energy that line provided on Friday night in Saturday’s game against the Lightning.
Happy Anniversary – Laich scored Washington’s lone goal on the eight-year anniversary of the trade that brought him to Washington from Ottawa in exchange for longtime D.C. sniper Peter Bondra.
Staying Warm – Alexander Semin and Mathieu Perreault assisted on Laich’s goal to keep their personal warm spells working.
Semin now has 26 points (11 goals, 15 assists) in his last 27 games. Perreault has totaled 11 points (six goals, five assists) in his last 14 contests.
Stamkos Stupendous – Stamkos’ goal was his 40th of the season, the third straight season in which he has reached that plateau. He becomes the first player in Lightning franchise history to record 40 or more goals in three separate seasons. Tampa Bay players have combined for seven 40-goal seasons in the franchise’s history.
Stamkos’ goal on Saturday was the game-winner, his ninth game-winner of the season. He established a single-season franchise mark in the process, breaking his own mark of eight set in 2010-11.
Move ‘Em Out – For the second consecutive home game, a Lightning player was traded during or after pre-game warm-ups. On Thursday, Tampa traded a seventh-round draft choice in the 2012 NHL Entry draft and center Dominic Moore to the San Jose Sharks for a second-rounder in 2012. Since the Bolts were about to face-off against the Sharks at the time, all Moore had to do was haul his gear down the hallway to the visiting locker room.
During warm-ups of tonight’s game against Washington, the news broke that the Bolts had dealt defenseman Pavel Kubina to Philadelphia for a second-round pick, a fourth-round draft choice and minor leaguer Jon Kalinski. Kubina was in his second tour of duty with Tampa Bay. Official confirmation of that swap with the Flyers was made at the conclusion of the contest.
Down On The Farm – A night after a humbling 6-0 loss to the Senators in Binghamton, the AHL Hershey Bears were back in action on Saturday, taking on the Monarchs in Manchester. Hershey prevailed in this one, 2-1.
Hershey fell behind 1-0 just 68 seconds into the game, but Bears forward Ryan Potulny scored both goals to support Braden Holtby’s 33-save efforts in the Hershey nets.
Hershey finishes off a busy weekend on Sunday in Bridgeport. The 29-15-4-4 Bears are in third place in the AHL’s East Division, three points behind the front-running Norfolk Admirals.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays dropped a 2-1 overtime decision to the Florida Everblades a night after suffering a 4-1 road setback to the same club.
Mike Hamilton scored South Carolina’s only goal and Philipp Grubauer made 22 stops in a losing effort between the pipes.
The 29-22-3-1 Stingrays are in third place in the ECHL’s South Division, seven points in back of first-place Gwinnett.
By The Numbers – John Carlson led the Capitals with 22:51 in ice time … Ovechkin led all Caps forwards with 22:44 … Ovechkin and Semin led the Caps with four shots on net each … Mike Knuble led the caps with four hits … Roman Hamrlik led Washington with three blocked shots … Stamkos led the Lightning with five shots on net … Brett Clark led the Bolts with five blocked shots.