Killed – Coming into Saturday night’s game with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Capitals owned the league’s second-worst road penalty-killing percentage. And Washington had surrendered seven power play goals on 18 chances in five previous meetings with the Bolts this season.
Given all that information, taking five minor penalties in the game’s first 40 minutes did not seem like a recipe for success for Washington on this Saturday night, but it was. Goaltender Jose Theodore continued his tremendous recent run between the pipes, and Washington killed off all five Tampa Bay power plays to skate off with a 3-1 win. In doing so, the Capitals may have all but killed off the Lightning’s fading playoff hopes, too.
It marked just the second time this season that Washington flawlessly faced as many as five opposition power play chances in a road game. The first time? Opening night in Boston, way back on Oct. 1.
“I thought the PK was great but the key was Jose,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “I thought he was outstanding. I felt so comfortable with him in the net tonight. It was a really good feeling to have.”
Washington grabbed an early 1-0 lead, and it scored on half of its four first-period shots on goal. The newly cobbled line of Tomas Fleischmann and Eric Fehr flanking David Steckel struck in the game’s third minute to put the Caps up 1-0. Fehr took a pass from Steckel along the half-wall and found Fleischmann driving the net. Fehr fired a perfect feed to Fleischmann for the first goal of the night at 2:40.
Tampa Bay’s Vincent Lecavalier got one back for the home team just over four minutes later, firing one past Theodore from in front of the net. The Lightning forwards proved to be quite a handful for Theodore and his defensemen down low in the Washington end, at least for the game’s first 40 minutes.
Less that half a minute after the Caps killed off the second Lightning power play of the night, Alex Ovechkin took a sublime indirect pass from Nicklas Backstrom and roared into the Lightning end all alone. He deked Tampa Bay goaltender Antero Niittymaki and tucked the puck past him to put the Caps back on top.
Combining with linemates Brendan Morrison and Brooks Laich – who both made skillful and cerebral plays to set him up – Caps winger Alexander Semin netted his 33rd of the season at 7:20 of the third period to give Washington some much-needed breathing room.
“I thought they came out really hard and they outplayed us,” says Boudreau. “The goalie stole it for us in the first two periods. And then I thought they probably ran out of steam in the third period.
“We played a lot better as a group in the third period. I thought – especially once we got the third goal – it was like the wind went out of their sails.”
Rebound chances were rare for the Bolts, as Theodore gobbled up everything sent in his direction. Washington did not play its best hockey for the first 40 minutes, but buttoned up in the third period and played some textbook road hockey.
“I thought from the circles in in their zone, we outworked them,” observes Steckel. “But pretty much from the tops [of the circles] to the rest of the ice they outworked us. I think we were kind of containing as opposed to going in stick on stick and man on man in the first two periods when they were in the offensive zone, and obviously they got great chances because of it. And then in the third we got pucks deep and made them come through five guys instead of two or three. That was the difference.”
Penalty killing was the key to victory on this night. A dozen of the Lightning’s 36 shots on goal for the came were launched while Tampa Bay enjoyed the man-advantage.
“It’s a key we focused on going into the game tonight,” says Steckel. “I think here at [St. Pete Times Forum] they’re like 7-for-12 on the PP against us. It was a challenge tonight for us and the guys on this team to step up. We need to make sure that we’re doing that and hitting our stride going into the playoffs.”
“It’s probably the biggest thing that we have to work on for our team,” says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin of the team’s penalty killing outfit. “The guys work really hard on blocking shots, winning face-offs and getting the puck deep. It’s nice because they have pretty good players and pretty skilled players. If you give them any chances, they can score. [Theodore] played unbelievable. When a goalie plays like that, you feel safe.”
Since absorbing a 7-4 setback in a relief effort at the hands of the Lightning on Jan. 12, Theodore is now 16-0-2 in his last 18 appearances. Boudreau admitted after the game that Theodore is beginning to separate himself from Semyon Varlamov as the two Caps goalies vie for the top spot between the pipes heading into the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“The way he’s playing he certainly is [creating separation],” says Boudreau. “He is just playing with a lot of confidence and he is in such a groove. Touch wood; I don’t want to say anything to spoil it.”
“I felt pretty good,” says Theodore. “I felt like I was seeing the puck well. The last game of the road trip, they played desperate hockey. You’ve got to give them credit. They came and they played a solid 60 minutes. I don’t think they could have done anything more. We just were able to play really well on the PK and get some big goals. The PK did a great job tonight.”
Many of the shots Theodore faced came from in tight.
“They were attacking net really good and that’s how the goals are getting scored,” he says. “You try to hit something in front or there’s a rebound. It’s always those kinds of plays where it goes in. They were trying really hard but our D did a great job protecting me and I was able to freeze the puck and challenge on a lot of shots. Maybe it wasn’t our best offensive night but we were really solid defensively.”
Match 22 – Saturday’s win gives Washington its 22nd road win of the season, matching a single-season franchise mark achieved three times previously (in 1983-84, 1992-93 and 1993-94).
The Capitals have three road games remaining – at Carolina, at Columbus and at Pittsburgh – in which to establish a new standard.
End of the Road (Trip) – Washington concluded its longest trip of the season with an impressive 3-0-1 record.
“It’s a good road win for us because that’s 3-0-1 on this four-game road trip,” says Boudreau. “It seems like we’re never satisfied with how we play, but the end result was 3-0-1 in four tough buildings.
Back In the Saddle – Ovechkin scored the game-winner, had a hit and fired seven shots on goal while playing more than 22 minutes in his first game back in the lineup after serving a two-game NHL suspension.
“I thought he was a little tentative early,” says Boudreau, “like he was [in an] ‘I don’t want to get in trouble’ type thing. He got the winning goal and I thought in the third period he had a couple good hits. So he was getting back to normal. I haven’t counted but I’ll bet he had seven or eight shots, too. So that’s good stuff. It’s not like we eased him back in.”
“Come back and play hockey and score goals,” says Ovechkin, whose 45th tally of the season ties him with Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby for the NHL lead. “It’s always nice.”
Busy Night – Caps defenseman Tom Poti entered tonight’s game with an average of 3:35 per night in shorthanded ice time to rank 10th in the league in that department, ninth among defensemen. Poti logged 3:07 of shorthanded ice in just the first period alone against the Lightning. The Caps were shorthanded for a total of 4:01 during the first.
In the second, Poti skated another 3:15 worth of shorthanded ice time as Washington found itself a man down for a total of 4:28. He added another 29 seconds of shorthanded ice in the third for a total of 6:51 on the night, nearly double his average single-game figure and more than two minutes more than any other Capitals defenseman.
Steckel led all Washington forwards with 4:22 in shorthanded ice time.
Happy Birthday – To one Robert Gordon Orr, Hockey Hall of Fame and blueline pioneer, born on this day in 1948.
By The Numbers – Both Zenon Konopka (4-0) and Nate Thompson (6-0) were perfect in the face-off circle for the first two periods to account for Tampa Bay’s 25 to 15 edge over Washington in that category in the game’s first 40 minutes. Konopka won all six of his draws on the night and Thompson finished 13-for-14 (93%) … Steckel was the only Caps center to win more than half of his draws (9-for-17, 53%) … Jeff Schultz paced the Caps with three blocked shots … Mike Green led the Capitals in ice time (24:36) and hits (four).
Down On The Farm – One night after setting the all-time single-season franchise mark for wins with their 52 triumph of the season – an 8-2 win over the Senators in Binghamton – the AHL Hershey Bears stayed in upstate New York to take on the Syracuse Crunch in a Saturday night road contest.
The Bears kept the perfect weekend going with a 6-2 win over the Crunch.
Andrew Gordon scored a pair of goals – his 33rd and 34th of the season – to pace the Hershey attack. Jay Beagle (his 12th), Chris Bourque (22nd), Ashton Rome (fifth) and Kyle Wilson (23rd) also scored for the Bears. Blueliners Karl Alzner and Zach Miskovic each contributed a pair of assists to the cause.
Making his first start in nearly a month, Bears netminder Jason Bacashihua ran his record on the season to 15-2-1 with a 29-save effort.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays played a road game against the Florida Everblades for a second straight night. The Stingrays took the Friday night game by a 5-3 score. Tonight, the Everblades rebounded to take the second tilt between the two teams by the same score.
Caps prospect Jake Hauswirth scored in each of the two games to push his total to 18 on the season in this, his first campaign as a pro.
Wrist shot -