Too Much, Too Late – On Monday morning, the Capitals spoke about the need to know where Lightning sniper Steven Stamkos is at all times on the ice and the need to limit his time and space. For the better part of 59 minutes, the Caps did that well enough at limiting Stamkos that they had a chance to take at least a point home with them from their Monday night visit to Tampa Bay.
Alas, NHL games last 60 minutes.
With 1:03 remaining in a 2-2 game, Stamkos found himself with enough time and space in front of the Washington net to put back the rebound of a Brett Clark point shot, a dagger goal that broke the deadlock and sent the Caps home empty-handed. The Stamkos game-winner – his 12th game-winner of the season – came just seconds after he had fanned on a glorious scoring chance from the top of the paint.
“It’s one of those things,” rues Caps coach Dale Hunter. “It bounced around in front and you give Stamkos that kind of room, he’s going to score.”
Stamkos added an empty-netter in the waning seconds to send the Caps back to D.C. on the short end of a 4-2 score. He has a league-leading 58 goals on the season, including five in six games against the Capitals.
The Caps went into the third period facing a 2-1 deficit. Jason Chimera’s goal with 3:17 remaining drew the Caps even and gave them a chance to get away with a point.
“We were obviously very excited,” says Caps right wing Troy Brouwer. “With three and a half minutes left to tie the game up and put ourselves in a good spot to get a point and hopefully two. But we lost the draw in our own end, and they had a little bit of pressure on us. The puck squeaks loose, and we don’t pick up sticks and they put one in the back of the net.”
Even with Monday’s loss, Washington still holds its playoff fate in its own hands. If the Caps win each of their remaining games – Thursday against the Panthers at Verizon Center and Saturday against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden – they’ll be in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Opportunity Lost – Had they been able to get two points against a Lightning team already out of the playoff picture, the Capitals would have edged closer to nailing down a playoff berth on Monday night. They would have reduced the Buffalo Sabres’ tragic number to just two, and would have maintained the heat on the Florida Panthers for the top spot in the Southeast Division and set up at least the possibility of moving into first in the Southeast when the two teams meet at Verizon Center on Thursday.
Instead, the Cats can clinch the first division title in their history with a home ice win over the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday, and Buffalo can draw even with Washington in the race for eighth place if it is able to upend the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs on home ice on Tuesday.
Facing a 42-year-old goaltender (Dwayne Roloson) who is almost certainly in the final games of a solid NHL career, the Caps didn’t get enough traffic in front, didn’t take advantage of their few power play chances and didn’t do enough to test Roloson early. The veteran goalie made a few great saves to be sure, but the Caps also misfired on some prime chances.
As a result, the Caps let a defensively wobbly Lightning team off the hook.
The Lightning entered the game having allowed 3.4 goals per game this season, by far the worst mark in the league. The Bolts had allowed 55 goals in their previous 15 games (an average of 3.67 per game), using four goaltenders in the process.
Roloson himself had been dented for three or more goals in 15 of his previous 19 appearances, including some relief efforts in which he manned the crease for fewer than 60 minutes. Going into Monday’s game, he was 5-8-1 with a 3,80 GAA and an .884 save pct. in those previous 19 appearances, covering calendar 2012.
The Caps fired 61 shots toward the Tampa Bay net on the night, getting 33 of them on goal. But only 15 of those shot bids – and only seven on goal – came in the first against a goaltender who had allowed a combined total of 10 goals in his previous two starts.
Capital Offense – With their season on the line, the Caps haven’t been able to muster much of an offensive attack of late.
“We had some great, great chances,” notes Hunter of Monday’s game. “We were up 1-0 and then [Mike Green] had a great chance.
“You’ve got to give credit to the goalie there. He had a strong game. He had a real good game. Unfortunately it came against us right here.”
If that sounds like a familiar refrain, it’s because it is. Since the beginning of March, Washington has scored just 39 goals in its last 17 games for an average of 2.29 per contest. The Caps have allowed 48 goals of their own for an average of 2.82 goals against per game.
Given a difference of more than half a goal per game over that span, the Caps are fortunate to have an 8-6-3 record in those 17 games. Three of the Capitals’ eight wins during that span came via the shootout.
Twenty/Twenty – Alexander Semin and Chimera each scored their 20th goal of the season for Washington on Monday night to account for all of the Capitals’ offense. Semin has reached that plateau for the sixth straight season, and Chimera has done so for the first time at the NHL level.
Semin and Chimera are tied for second on the team in goals behind Alex Ovechkin at 36, but recently neither has played as much as usual.
Semin came into tonight’s contest with an average of 16:47 per night in ice time while Chimera had averaged 14:26 per night going into Monday’s game.
Semin skated 14:11 and Chimera just 11:41 in tonight’s game.
Semin has exceeded his average time on ice per game only four times in the Capitals’ last 13 games and it should be noted that he missed one of those games because of injury. Chimera has skated less than his nightly average for the season in 10 of the Capitals’ last 13 games.
Can’t Stand Prosperity – Tonight’s game marked the third straight game in which Washington was not able to hold a lead.
The Caps are 27-7-6 when scoring the game’s first goal this season. Washington has scored the game’s first goal six times in its last seven games, but it has won only three of those, and it needed a shootout to do so on two of the three occasions in which it did eventually earn two points.
National Disaster – Washington is now 5-7-2 in its 14 nationally televised games this season, and the Caps are 1-7-2 in their last 10 games on national television.
The Capitals’ season finale against the Rangers in New York will be the team’s 15th and final time on national television this season.
Not This Time – Including the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Capitals have now lost five straight games at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. This is the Lightning’s 19th season in the NHL, and this season marks the first time in those 19 seasons that Washington did not come away with at least one victory in Tampa.
By The Numbers – Green led the Caps with 25:52 in ice time on Monday … Ovechkin led Washington with six shots on net and four hits on the night … Green and Roman Hamrlik led the way for the Caps with three blocked shots each.