Show Stealer – Heading into tonight’s game, most of the talk was of Lightning center Steven Stamkos, who came into the game with a league-leading 13 goals and 24 points in just 14 games. Stamkos didn’t disappoint; he had a goal and an assist and was named the game’s third star.
The guy everyone is talking about after the game is Washington’s Alexander Semin. He had a hat trick – his second in nine games and the fifth of his NHL career – and added a pair of primary assists to pace the Capitals to a 6-3 win over the Lightning in the first of six meetings between the Southeast Division rivals this season.
“It wasn’t anything special,” downplays semin, speaking through translator Dmitry chesnokov. “I was just going out there and playing like I do every other game. Most important thing is for the team to win and that’s what happened tonight.”
Semin was named the game’s first star.
“He is pretty ‘on’ right now,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “Everything he is touching is turning to gold.”
With his three-goal, five-point game, Semin moves into second place in the race for the Maurice Richard Trophy. His dozen goals are two fewer than Stamkos has. Semin is now fourth in the league in scoring with 21 points. He trails only Stamkos (26), teammate Alex Ovechkin (23) and Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby (22).
With four assists on the night, Caps center Nicklas Backstrom has moved into a tie for fifth in the league in scoring, giving Washington three of the league’s top five scorers.
Got ‘Em Right Where We Want ‘Em (Again) – Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. The Caps won another game after surrendering the game’s first goal. While the other 29 NHL teams are slogging along at a combined .315 points percentage after allowing the game’s first goal, the Caps are a torrid 9-3 (.750) when falling behind 1-0 this season.
“They hit three or four posts,” says Boudreau of the Lightning. “I think we were lucky for a little bit. We had trouble adjusting to what they were doing in the first period. We made some adjustments and I thought we played a lot better in the second and third than we did in the first.”
Washington is already more than halfway to its total of 16 wins in 2009-10 when giving up the game’s first goal. That total led the league, too.
Six Pack – Washington opened up a six-pack of goals in running its winning streak to six straight games. The Capitals’ current streak is tied for second longest in the NHL this season. The St. Louis Blues had a seven-game winning streak snapped on Wednesday night in Columbus.
Tonight’s game also marked the sixth straight game in which a Washington defenseman scored a goal.
Neuvirth’s Night – Caps goaltender Michal Neuvirth faced a steady diet of shots throughout the game. He saw 13 in the first, a dozen in the second and 16 in the third on his way to a 38-save night and his league-leading 10th win of the season.
Neuvirth’s night got progressively more difficult as the game wore on and after the Capitals took the lead for good at 4:33 of the third. There was a lot more traffic in front, and the shots came from a lot closer in during the game’s final 15 minutes. For his part, Neuvirth’s game got a lot cleaner at that point; he left no loose change in front of the net for the waiting Tampa Bay forwards.
Basically, Neuvirth did what he has done on several occasions for the caps this season: Keep the game close until the Washington offense could find its legs.
“He’s been really good for us,” says Backstrom of Neuvirth. “We needed it. Hopefully he can continue playing the way he does and we can keep scoring, too.”
Streaking – With a goal and two helpers, Ovechkin ran his scoring streak to eight straight games (five goals, 10 assists). Semin’s scoring streak stretches to six games (seven goals, six assists) now.
Southwest Slayer – Four of Semin’s five career hat tricks have come against Southeast Division foes. He has now victimized Tampa Bay for a trio of tallies twice. Semin notched his second career hat trick against the Lightning on March 18, 2007.
For his NHL career, Semin now has 160 goals and 161 assists for 321 points in 343 games. He is better than a point per game against Southeast Division opponents: 70-64-134 in 119 games. Semin has 18 goals and 35 points in 30 career contests against the Lightning.
Two In Two For 22 – after enduring a 13-game drought without a goal – his longest in nearly a decade – Caps right wing Mike Knuble has a goal in each of the last two games.
Knuble now has three goals in 16 games. Last season, he started with three goals in 16 games on his way to a 29-goal season. Knuble closed the 2009-10 campaign by scoring 22 times in his final 39 games.
Back on the Blueline – In each of his first three seasons with the Capitals, defenseman Tom Poti ranked second only to Mike Green among all Washington defensemen in average ice time per contest. Poti led all Caps defensemen in shorthanded ice time per game in each of those seasons.
Sidelined with a lower body injury for 11 of the Capitals’ first 15 games this season, Poti returned to the lineup for the first time since Oct. 21 tonight.
“He’s a good player and a veteran in this league that’s been successful,” says Boudreau of Poti. “It’s nice to have him back because we’re young back there [on the blueline].
Poti scored the game’s first goal – his first of the season and his first since March 8 – in the first period of Thursday’s game against the Lightning.
“It felt pretty good,” says Poti when asked how it felt to be back in action. “[I was] a little rusty. My timing was a little bit off, but it felt good to be back out there with the guys again.”
Draw Man – Caps’ center David Steckel was 20-for-29 (69%) in the face-off circle against the Lightning. He is the first Capital to win 20 face-offs in a game since Jeff Halpern won 21 on Nov. 6, 2005 against the Maple Leafs.
Missing Men in the Middle – Caps center Boyd Gordon skated just three shifts totaling 1:42 on the night. Boudreau didn’t specify Gordon’s ailment after the game, but said it was something the pivot has had before. According to Boudreau, Gordon will be out of action for a week.
Lightning center Vincent Lecavalier skated 17 shifts totaling 14:29, but did not play in the third period. He missed a shift in the first frame and was seen on the bench with the Tampa Bay training staff administering to his right hand.
After the game, the Lightning announced that Lecavalier will be lost for three to four weeks with a non-displaced fracture in his right hand.
Net Loss – Lightning goaltender Dan Ellis entered tonight’s game on a hot streak. In his previous four starts, he was 3-0-1 with an 0.78 GAA and a .971 save pct. That stretch included a pair of shutouts.
Tonight, Ellis gave up five goals in just over 55 minutes. He had allowed three goals in his previous 231 minutes coming into Thursday’s game.
By The Numbers – Mike Green led all Caps skaters with 25:41 in ice time. Martin St. Louis paced the Bolts with 24:44 … Green led the Caps with three blocked shots … The Caps outhit the Lightning 28-18. John Erskine, Matt Bradley and Steckel led the way with four hits each. Ovechkin was a plus-4 on the night while Backstrom and Semin were each a plus-3 … Backstrom notched the 200th assist of his NHL career on Poti’s goal … The Caps are now 10-0 in games in which Gordon is in the lineup this season … Capitals radio play-by-play man Steve Kolbe called the 1,000th game of his career in the league tonight.