Rare Setback – For the sixth time in as many games since the Olympic break, the Capitals jumped out to a 1-0 lead in Friday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. But for the first time in those six games, the Caps absorbed a regulation loss, falling 3-2 to the Bolts. The setback was Washington’s first in regulation time on home ice since Dec. 28. The Caps are now 26-4-4 on Verizon Center ice this season.
The win was the first for the Lightning in Washington since Nov. 10, 2007, snapping a seven-game Caps winning streak over the Bolts on District ice. The Capitals are now 12-4-2 in their last 18 home games against Tampa Bay since the lockout.
Tomas Fleischmann’s power play goal gave the Caps a 1-0 advantage with 3:06 left in the first, but Washington was then victimized by some sloppy play near the Tampa Bay line and in the neutral zone. Lightning winger Brandon Bochenski scooted into the Caps’ zone with the puck and roofed a wrister past Caps goalie Semyon Varlamov. That goal hurt; it came with less than a minute remaining in the first frame. It was also a goal for the Bolts that came with their fourth line on the ice against the Caps’ top unit.
Washington dominated the Lightning early in the second, owning the offensive zone for virtually the entire duration of two power play chances and outshooting the Bolts 13-1 to start the period. That’s when the bounces – and a Washington mistake – began to tilt in the Bolts’ favor.
Caps left wing Alexander Semin failed to gain the red line before floating a puck into the Tampa Bay end midway through the middle frame. The needless icing violation resulted in a defensive zone draw for the Caps. Tampa Bay’s Nate Thompson decisioned Brooks Laich on the face-off, and three seconds later Bolts blueliner Matt Walker slapped one past Varlamov to give the Lightning a lead it would not relinquish.
Minutes later, the Bolts went up by a pair when another Walker point shot glanced off the arm of Lightning center Vincent Lecavalier and bounced past Varlamov.
“I don’t know if we had a real good push,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau of his team’s play early in the second period. “We kept the puck in their zone. But everything was to the outside and we didn’t have real good chances. Once they [Tampa Bay] started to believe they could win, they won every battle and they outworked us. It’s pretty simple. You don’t win if you don’t work. I don’t care who you are.”
Once they had the lead, the Lightning did a good job of keeping the Caps out of the middle of the ice and getting bodies and sticks in front of Washington shots. Laich brought Washington to within a goal when he scored a rebound tally on a Caps power play in the third, but the Bolts put on an uncharacteristic defensive display and denied the Capitals a good chance at the equalizer.
Coming into Friday’s game, the Lightning had allowed an average of 4.75 goals per game in its previous eight contests. Only five of the 38 goals Tampa Bay allowed in its prior eight games came on the power play, but Washington was unable to dent the previously porous Lightning defense at even strength.
“We didn’t do the job as forwards and defensemen,” laments Boudreau. “We stayed out too long, we got outworked and we didn’t play the way we were capable of playing. That’s the reason we lost. It had nothing to do with goaltending. We should be able to score with [our] lineup, three goals a game. And we got none five-on-five, which has been a strength of ours all year.
“But when you get none five-on-five, the telltale sign isn’t luck. It isn’t anything. You just got outworked. There’s no excuse. We just got outworked.”
Shot Selections – Washington finished the night with 30 shots on goal, but it had 20 shots blocked and it missed the net with 10 more chances. Seven of those Tampa Bay blocked shots came during the first half of the second period when the game was even 1-1 and Washington was outshooting the Lightning by 13-1.
While the choice to shoot the puck appeared to be the wrong choice from up in the rafters, that type of thinking goes against the Caps’ style of play.
“Our game plan is always to shoot as many pucks as we can and get traffic to the net,” declares Laich. “Myself, I know there was about three or four times when I shot the puck and I thought I had a good look at the net and somebody got a stick on it. Sometimes you’ve got to give credit to a team that plays well defensively especially against a good offensive team. They didn’t give us much for chances. When we were in their zone they closed on us and took time and space away.”
Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin combined for a total of 15 shots taken, but each player finished with just one shot on goal. Thirteen different Capitals had shots blocked by Lightning defenders in Friday’s game.
Half Century – Caps defenseman Mike Green notched his 50th assist of the season on Laich’s goal. Green becomes just the fourth Capitals defenseman ever to record 50 assists in a season and the first since Kevin Hatcher had 50 on the nose in 1990-91. Green joins Hatcher, Scott Stevens (three times) and Larry Murphy (twice) on that short list.
With 61 assists in 1988-89, Stevens holds the franchise’s single-season record for helpers in a season by a blueliner.
With his 21st goal of the season, Laich reached 50 points for the second straight season. He established his single-season career best with 53 points last season.
Double Sawbuck – Tomas Fleischmann’s first-period power play goal was his 20th of the season, one more than he notched in 2008-09 and a single-season career high. Fleischmann has missed a dozen games this season, too.
Streak Stopped – Lightning sophomore sensation Steven Stamkos came into Friday’s game with an 18-game scoring streak (17 goals, 16 assists), one game shy of the longest in the league this season. Anaheim’s Corey Perry had a 19-game run during the first half of the campaign.
Stamkos also came into the game with a seven-game goal scoring streak, the longest in the NHL in 2009-10. Both of those streaks went by the wayside as Washington managed to shut down Stamkos and linemates Martin St. Louis and Steve Downie.
Happy Birthday – To ex-Caps goalie Brent Johnson, born on this day in 1977. And to former Caps center Tyler Larter, a fourth-round pick in 1987 whose NHL career consisted of a lone contest in 1989-90. Larter, a Prince Edward Island native, was born on this day in 1968.
By The Numbers – Caps winger Mike Knuble recorded his 20th assist, reaching that plateau for the seventh time in as many seasons … Shaone Morrisonn paced the Caps with seven hits … Stamkos led the Lightning with three first-period hits. He finished the night with five, matching Downie for the most among the Bolts … Stamkos also led all skaters on both sides with six shots on goal … David Steckel (7-for-9, 78%) and Brendan Morrison (9-for-12, 75%) were the game’s top face-off men.
Down on the Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears opened a busy weekend with a Friday night visit to Adirondack to take on the Phantoms. Bears captain Bryan Helmer scored in overtime to propel the Bears to their 50th victory of the season, a 5-4 win over the Phantoms.
Jay Beagle and Steve Pinizzotto each scored their 11th goal of the season and Alexandre Giroux tallied twice to push his season’s total to 35. Pinizzotto’s goal was shorthanded and one of Giroux’s came on a Hershey power play. Zach Miskovic had two assists and Michal Neuvirth made 26 saves to run his record to 14-5-0-1 on the season.
The Bears are one win shy of matching the single-season franchise record of 51 established by the Boudreau-coached 2006-07 team. Hershey can clinch the East Division title with a win on Saturday when it visits Springfield.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays hosted the Florida Everblades at North Charleston Arena on Friday night. The Rays came away with a 3-1 win.
Goaltender Todd Ford made 25 saves and Caps prospect Jake Hauswirth netted the game-winner – his 15th of the season – to pace the Stingrays to victory.
At 37-16-5-6, the Stingrays still lead the ECHL’s South Division by a dozen points. South Carolina hosts Florida again on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.