Start Me Up – There was a good deal of anticipation for Wednesday night’s Caps-Lightning game from the fan bases of both teams, and why not? The two Southeast Division rivals came into the contest with the same number of points (55), with the Lightning holding the top spot by virtue of having one more victory than the Capitals.
When these two teams met last week in Washington, neither club was able to find the back of the net during the 60 minutes of regulation time. In Wednesday’s game, the Lightning came out quick and hard, and it made sure fans wouldn’t have to wait so long for the red lamp to activate.
Tampa Bay’s Dominic Moore scored a bit of a fluky tally at 3:58 of the first period, bouncing the puck into the net off Washington goaltender Semyon Varlamov. That would be all the offense the Lightning would require in a 3-0 whitewash of Washington.
In a key game against a division rival, the Caps weren’t able to muster anything in the way of an attack. For the second night in a row, they dug a 2-0 first-period hole and were down 3-0 in the second frame.
“I don’t think we did our game plan very well right from the start,” says Caps defenseman Scott Hannan. “That’s two games in a row I don’t think we were ready to start the game. We fell behind early and it’s tough to come back in this league. We’re struggling to score goals and if we spot them two at the beginning of every game, it’s going to be a tough start to come back [from].
“It showed tonight. We didn’t get anything started, we pressed. I think we try to do too much sometimes. And it cost us. Those are two big games. We’re going to have to rebound, we’re going to have to come back and play better than that. We can’t come out like that.”
Hannan was asked why he thought the Caps came out like that.
“I’m not sure,” he muses. “I think us leaders have to come out and make sure the guys are ready to play at the start of the game. We can’t be turning pucks over and giving them offense when we don’t have to. We’ve got to stick to our game plan and play it. Teams are good in this league and if you give them chances, they’re going to score. You can’t always expect to come back in games. I think we just weren’t ready at the start and it cost us two games.”
A night after coming back from a 3-0 deficit to earn a point in a 4-3 overtime loss against the Panthers in Sunrise, the Caps couldn’t muster anything in the way of a comeback against the top team in their division.
“It’s tough to expect to try and tie that game,” says Caps right wing Mike Knuble. “It took a lot of energy [Tuesday] night to catch up and if you keep asking your team to do that all the time, it’s tough. Coming in back-to-back, you’ve got to get the lead. It’s pretty important because we chased so hard [Tuesday] night to scrape out a point.”
After the game, Boudreau lamented the ongoing struggles of his best offensive players.
“I thought we came out with a lot of emotion and were ready to play,” says Boudreau. “Even after their second goal, I thought there was a lot of life on the bench. Then we started taking penalties.
“It’s tough when you’ve got a team that is used to scoring. There’s a lot of guys that are used to scoring a lot of goals, being up at the top in a lot of categories and then they’re not scoring and they get frustrated. I know I’ve said this before, but unless you’ve been there it’s tough. They want to score so bad. They want to get things. Things start not going their way.
“[Alex Ovechkin] comes out of the penalty box, the puck, instead of bouncing forward, I don’t know how it bounced backwards on him where he has a breakaway. [Nicklas Backstrom] gets chances in the slot and it flubs off his stick. Ovi breaks sticks when he’s shooting. There’s a lot of things not going right for them and they’re pressing really hard. But it’s not for lack of want and will.”
Non-Support – Varlamov has been brilliant against the Lightning this season and throughout his brief NHL career. Even after tonight’s loss to the Lightning, Varlamov is 4-2-1 with two shutouts, a 1.85 GAA and a .936 save pct. lifetime against Tampa Bay.
In the Wednesday night duel for the top spot in the Southeast Division, Varlamov was again the Caps’ best player in a game against the Lightning.
“I think their goaltender played outstanding,” says Lightning coach Guy Boucher. “He got 40 shots in there and I think our power play got so many chances, and I felt one of them as going to go in. But give credit to the goalie. He’s been outstanding for them, so that’s amazing. He’s done it again tonight, and is pretty hard to beat. So I’m quite pleased about beating that goaltender three times tonight.”
The 22-year-old Russian wasn’t perfect however, and he needed to be. For the second time in eight days, his teammates failed to score a goal in support of him against the Lightning.
“I thought he played real good,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau of his netminder. “Especially when they got to 2-0 in the second period when they had those power play opportunities. It was like he clamped down and said, ‘I’m going to save the team, I’m not going to allow that next one.’ And he did. He made some really good saves in penalty killing. And then they scored the goal at the end of the second period and that one hurt a lot.”
Varlamov has made seven career starts against the Lightning and until tonight, the Bolts had never scored a goal against him in the first 10 minutes of any game. Tonight, the grabbed the lead at 3:58 of the first.
Last Tuesday, Bolts goalie Dwayne Roloson blanked the Caps on 34 shots in his debut in a Lightning sweater. Tonight, he did so on just 23 Washington shots, earning a shutout in his first home game with the Lightning.
Roloson has forged four career shutouts against the Capitals, turning the trick with three different teams. He now has a shutout streak of 126 minutes and 33 seconds against the Capitals.
Drawing Blanks – After being shutout just four times in a span of 190 games from March, 2008 through November, 2010, the Capitals have now suffered five whitewashes in a span of just 25 games.
Sluggish Starts – After the Caps were outshot 20-7 and outscored 2-0 in the first period of Tuesday’s game against the Panthers in Florida, several of the Caps as well as coach Bruce Boudreau remarked about how important it was for the team to start getting off to better starts in games.
It didn’t happen tonight in Tampa.
The Lightning had more energy and jump in the first, and they used it to pounce on the Capitals and forge a 2-0 first-period lead. Washington was able to rebound from a 2-0 first-period deficit and a 3-0 second-period hole to gain a point in Tuesday’s game against the Swamp Cats, but you can’t expect to do that regularly and have success in the NHL.
“We haven’t scored the first goal of the game in a long while,” says Boudreau. “It’s hard fighting from behind every night. When they scored that first one, we knew we were in for a tough night.”
Entering Wednesday night’s game, the Caps had the third fewest first-period goals in the league this season. They’ve been doubled up (52-26) in first-period shots on goal in their last four games and outscored 5-0 in those contests. Washington has surrendered the game’s first goal in each of its last five games.
“I didn’t think our goals against were too much [because] of miscues,” says Caps defenseman John Carlson. “And I didn’t think we came out that flat. But it’s our goal to come out and get a lead and play hot, play good in the first period and we just haven’t been doing that and there’s no excuse for that.”
Back In The Saddle – Exactly a month after he played his previous game for the Caps, center Boyd Gordon returned to action after missing the last 11 games because of an infection on his foot.
Gordon skated 10:01 on the night, laid a hit, blocked a shot and logged 3:06 in shorthanded ice time, tops among Washington forwards.
“It’s a little bit different speed, obviously,” says Gordon of going from practicing to playing against the Lightning after a long layoff from game action. “I hadn’t been in a game for a month but I have to be as ready as possible. I didn’t feel really sharp, but we’ll take it one game at a time and hopefully make a more improvement on Friday [against Vancouver].”
Power Outage – Washington’s streak of games without registering more than one power play goal reached 20 on Wednesday night as the Caps went 0-for-2 with the extra man against the Lightning. Washington is now 8-for-75 (10.7%) with the extra man in its last 20 games, since it went 2-for-4 with the extra man in a 6-0 win over the Lightning at Verizon Center on Nov. 26.
It’s the longest streak of its kind for the Capitals in more than eight years.
Washington went 19 straight games without multiple power play goals from Nov. 27, 2002 through Jan. 10, 2003. The Capitals were 7-for-77 (9.1%) with the extra man during that stretch.
From Box Cars To Cobs – After scoring six goals against the Lightning in each of the first two meetings between the two teams this season, Lightning coach Guy Boucher adjusted his team’s mindset before last Tuesday’s Caps-Lightning game at Verizon Center.
“The first two meetings,” said Boucher before Wednesday’s win over Washington, “we tried to go head-to-head with our skills. I think probably they were more of a run-and-gun team two months ago, and we tried to be one in those two games and they’re better at it than us. And their offense killed us and turnovers in transition killed us because we were trying to push our offense and we got caught.
“The last game we went in and tried to play our game, not trying to adjust to the other team and making sure that we give the amount of shots we normally give to the opponents. We have what we call a five-man picture, having five guys back all the time ready to defend. We weren’t in previous games and that game we were, but they were also.
“When you look at the video, it was a three-on-three, four-on-four game with no odd-man rushes last game. I’m expecting the same kind of game tonight.”
Boucher got the same kind of game from his team, another shutout. After scoring a dozen goals in a span of just five periods in the first two Washington-Tampa Bay games this season, the Caps have now gone without a goal in their last six periods (plus an overtime session) against the Lightning.
The two teams meet again on Feb. 4 in Tampa Bay.
Man Down – Caps defenseman Tom Poti left Wednesday’s game with a lower body injury after taking one second-period shift. He skated 5:38 on the night, recorded a hit and was a minus-2.
Tonight was Washington’s 44th game of the campaign, but just Poti’s 21st game of the season. His games have come in fits and starts this season as he has been unable to stay healthy. Poti played a season-high nine consecutive games from Dec. 6-23, but has also had absences of three, eight, six, two, three and one game from the Caps lineup mixed in with his 21 appearances.
Playing in their second game in as many nights, the remaining five Caps defensemen had to shoulder a heavier workload the rest of the way.
“It’s not easy,” says Carlson. “But I think that we’ve been dealing with it all year long with the misfortunes that we’ve had with injuries, especially on the back end. Everyone else just needs to step up their game when stuff like that happens.”
Fruitless In Florida – Generally, trips to Florida for the Caps include visits to both the Panthers and the Lightning. In recent years, it has been rare for Washington to come back winless from a trip to the Sunshine State.
The team’s just-completed trip was its first fruitless foray to Florida since dropping consecutive contests to the Cats and Bolts on Nov. 15-18, 2007, the week before Boudreau took over as the Capitals’ head coach. In between, Washington made seven straight trips to Florida in which it faced both teams and came home with at least one win.
Helping Hands – Playing in his first game in front of the home fans in his new home, Roloson picked up a secondary assist on the Lightning’s first goal of the game. The helper was the 14th of his NHL career.
Home Cooking – Wednesday’s win pushes the Lightning’s home ice record to an impressive 13-3-2, tied for the fewest regulation losses in the league. The Bolts play 14 of their next 17 at St. Pete Times Forum, which can’t be good news for the pursuing clubs in the Southeast Division.
Cap Killer – Lightning winger Simon Gagne always fared well against Washington during his days as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers. He scored his first two NHL goals against the Caps at Verizon Center on Oct. 12, 1999 and has been a consistent thorn in Washington’s side since. During 34 games against the Caps as a member of the Flyers, Gagne totaled 17 goals and 34 points.
Wednesday’s game marked his second contest against the Caps in a Lightning sweater, and the veteran winger picked up where he left off.
Late in the second period with the Bolts already up 2-0, Gagne fought through a check in his own end to start a 2-on-0 break against Varlamov. The Lightning winger buried the chance to send his team into the second intermission with an imposing 3-0 lead.
“I definitely think it was a back-breaker,” says Boudreau of Gagne’s goal. “Anytime you’re within two, you’re within striking distance because if you get one, they start to back-pedal a little bit and you get emotionally into it. It did some damage.”
By The Numbers – The Lightning’s Steven Stamkos and Washington’s Ovechkin each teed up nine shots on the night, Stamkos has seven on goal and two misses. Ovechkin had two on goal, five blocked and two misses … The Caps had more shots go awry (15 blocked, nine missed) than they had on net (23) … Carlson led all skaters on both sides with 25:27 in ice time on Wednesday … Ovechkin and Mike Green tied for the team lead with four hits each for Washington … Green led all skaters on both sides with four blocked shots … Nine different Caps and ten different Tampa Bay players took face-offs in the game as tosses from the circle were frequent