Offensive Outburst – Five-goal games were not at all out of the ordinary for the 2009-10 Washington Capitals. The Caps actually scored five or more goals in five straight games last February, matching the longest stretch of five-goal games by an NHL team since 1992-93.
Washington netted five or more goals in a game 26 times in 82 regular season games last season. The Caps were limited to two goals or fewer on just 15 times all season.
The complexion of the Caps has changed this season.
Tonight’s 5-2 win over the Lightning came in game No. 53 on the season, and it’s just the 10th time in 2010-11 – and only the second time in their last 29 games – that the Caps have managed as many as five goals in a game.
On the other side of that coin, the Capitals have already been limited to two or fewer goals 24 times in 53 games this season.
Washington picked a great night and a great way to break out of its collective offensive doldrums, lighting the lamp five times for the first time since a 5-1 win over New Jersey on Dec. 21.
The win over Tampa Bay shrunk the Lightning’s lead in the Southeast Division standings to three points. The two clubs meet for the final time in the regular season on March 7 at St. Pete Times Forum.
Friday’s win was also the Caps’ first against a team that is currently in a playoff spot since their 3-1 win over the Penguins in Pittsburgh in the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day.
Nicklas Backstrom scored twice. Alex Ovechkin, Brooks Laich and Jason Chimera added single strikes. Backstrom and Ovechkin both finished with four-point nights, Backstrom for the first time since he had four assists against the Lightning on Nov. 11 and Ovechkin for the first time in nearly a year, since a three-goal, one-assist game against the Penguins last Feb. 7.
While the Caps best players were their best players, Washington got stellar effort, determination and drive all the way up and down its roster. It also got a top notch performance from its coaching staff, who made two points in this one a singular focus.
“We had a chance for the first time in a long time,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau, “and we just focused in practice on beating Tampa. That was what our whole focus was. It wasn’t about doing different things and how we did it. It was about going over a lot of video on them.
“You don’t have the luxury to do that a lot of times, but we did. But that I don’t think was half as important as the commitment the players had tonight. You could see every one of them were committed to doing the right thing. And they did and we got a couple lucky breaks and won the game.”
The Capitals’ victory also put the skids on Tampa Bay’s six-game winning streak, its longest since its Stanley Cup championship season of 2003-04.
“They came with pride and they deserve it,” says Lightning coach Guy Boucher of the Capitals. “Ovechkin was there and he was better than our better players. And our grinding guys, our guys that are supposed to shut down, did not shut down.”
Turning Point – For the second time in as many visits to Tampa this season, the Caps fell behind on an early goal. Dominic Moore did the deed in the fourth minute of the Jan. 12 game between the two games here, and tonight it was Tampa Bay’s Teddy Purcell staking his team to a 1-0 lead in the game’s fourth minute.
Washington dominated play in the early going, but trailed 1-0 into the middle of the first despite a large advantage in shots on goal.
Hendricks and his Washington mates had launched dozens of pucks at Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson in the prior two games between the two teams, with no success. So Hendricks tried something different. He launched his body at the Lightning goalie.
As expected, he was whistled immediately for goaltender interference. Roloson’s reaction was a bit unexpected; he lost his cool and took several shots at Hendricks, first with his catching glove and later with his blocker.
Instead of the Bolts heading to the power play already up 1-0 in the game, the two teams went to 4-on-4 for two minutes because of Roloson’s ill-advised roughing call.
Less than a minute later, the Caps scored a rare (for them this season) 4-on-4 goal to even the score. Hendricks was taken to task for his net crashing deeds seconds after his minor penalty expired when the Lightning’s Steve Downie challenged him to a fight.
Hendricks’ action put a stop to Roloson’s personal shutout streak against the Capitals at 135 minutes and 42 seconds.
Good In Goal – Caps goalie Semyon Varlamov gave up a goal to Purcell on the first shot he faced but settled in nicely to stop 23 of 25 shots on the night and earn his ninth win of the season.
“It was good because I was worried,” admits Boudreau. “I was [thinking], ‘If another one goes in, I hope [backup Michal Neuvirth] is ready. But he rebounded great with mental toughness and that’s a great sign for young goalies.”
That mental toughness goes back to Dec. 12 when the 22-year-old Russian goaltender had the roughest outing of his brief NHL career. He allowed seven goals on just 20 shots in a 7-0 loss to the Rangers in New York.
Since then, Varlamov has now allowed just 21 goals in his last dozen appearances (11 starts). He has not surrendered more than three goals in any of those games. During that stretch, he has posted a 5-3-4 record, mostly because he has received a mere 24 goals worth of offensive support during that run, including the five goals tonight.
In those last dozen games, Varlamov has fashioned a 1.77 GAA and a .942 save pct.
When The Spell Is Broken – Going into Friday night’s game, Roloson was bidding to join ex-Islander Tommy Salo as the second goalie ever to blank the Caps three times in the same season. The veteran Tampa Bay goalie entered Friday’s game on the heels of a 38-save shutout win over the Flyers on Tuesday.
Roloson was 3-0 with two shutouts and 85 saves on 86 shots in his previous three starts. He brought a shutout streak of 124 minutes and three seconds into Friday’s game.
After having frustrated the Caps in his previous two starts against Washington, it seemed as though the Capitals were getting in the Tampa Bay goalie’s head a bit with their constant presence at the top of the blue paint.
Hendricks’ run of Roloson broke the spell, and Caps winger Mike Knuble did a tremendous job of distracting the netminder on Ovechkin’s power play goal.
“It looked like when he tried to make that play [immediately after the Ovechkin goal] that he was frustrated,” says Boudreau of Roloson. “It’s tough. Traffic, Hendricks in the crease, goalies get off their game when they’re battling like that.”
Kill Streak Killed – Washington’s streak of successive successful penalty kills came to a halt late in the second period. When the Lightning’s Brett Clark scored a power play goal at 19:19 of the second period, it ended a stretch of 27 straight kills for the Caps.
Washington has now snuffed out 33 of its last 35 (94.3%) shorthanded situations. The Lightning is 2-for-22 (9.1%) on the power play in five games against the Caps this season.
Twenty – Ovechkin’s goal was his 20th of the season, marking the sixth time in as many NHL seasons he has reached that total. Ovechkin’s lowest single-season goal total is currently 46 in 2006-07. He’ll need 26 goals in his last 29 games to reach that mark this season.
Water In The Desert – Ovechkin’s power play goal in the second period was his first since Oct. 30 at Calgary and just his third extra-man tally of the season. According to Japers’ Rink (japersrink.com), the amount of power play time elapsed for Washington between Ovechkin’s previous power play goal and his tally tonight was 192:11.
“Our power play did a great job,” says Ovechkin. “Finally we were able to control the puck in their zone and score one goal. The power play is an important thing for us and it was a long time ago that we scored power play goals.”
Deadly Duo Denied – Lightning center Steven Stamkos entered Friday’s game leading the league in goals (39) and points (68), and carrying a career shooting pct. of 17.1%, third highest among all active players. Only Calgary’s Alex Tanguay (18.7%) and Minnesota’s Andrew Brunette (18.1%) are ahead of Stamkos on that list. Tanguay is a former Bolt and Brunette is a former Capital.
The Caps’ dynamic defensive duo of Karl Alzner and John Carlson effectively shut down Stamkos and partner in crime Martin St. Louis (tied for fourth in the league’s scoring race at night’s outset) on the night. Stamkos finished at minus-2 with just one shot on goal in 20:48 of ice time and was charged with three giveaways, more than anyone on either side. St. Louis managed two shots and was minus-1 one in his 20:16 of work.
Carlson led all skaters on both sides with 26:49 in ice time.
“It’s a big compliment for us,” says Alzner. “It’s tough, those guys are real tough to play against. St. Louis, he’s so fast. Stamkos is a finisher with his speed, too. Varly helped us out so much.
“There were chances where they probably could have scored, and we maybe were a little loose on them, but Varly did good and Carly was great out there. We were talking lots. It’s a tough job, but it’s a fun job.”
Happy Birthday – To longtime NHL goaltender (and briefly a Capital) Gary “Suitcase” Smith, one of the game’s more colorful characters of his day. Smith loved to roam from his goal crease, and because of his occasional stickhandling forays from his own net to center ice, the rulebook was altered to prevent goalies from skating past the red line. Smith was born on Feb. 4, 1944.
Down On The Farm – With both of their usual goaltenders – Braden Holtby and Dany Sabourin – on the sidelines with injuries, the AHL Hershey Bears traveled to Atlantic City for a Friday night boardwalk date with the Albany Devils.
Todd Ford, summoned from ECHL South Carolina, started in goal for the Bears while South Carolina’s Jared DeMichiel was recalled to back him up. The game started inauspiciously for Ford, as he surrendered the game’s first goal at the 2:50 mark of the first to the unlikeliest of candidates, Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond. It was the first goal of the season for the exiled enforcer.
Andrew Gordon evened it up for the Bears with his 22nd of the season – a power play goal late in the first – but ex-Bear Chad Wiseman put the Devils back on top at 2-1 midway through the middle frame.
Francois Bouchard scored his seventh of the season on a power play at 10:17 to draw the Bears even and Brian Willsie netted his 20th less than three minutes later to put Hershey back on top. But Albany’s Stephen Gionta scored the tying goal early in the third to make it a 3-3 game.
Willsie notched the game-winner on the power play at 4:38 of the third, and Boyd Kane sealed the deal with an empty-netter, his 13th of the season.
The Bears got a 21-save effort from Ford and three power play goals en route to their seventh straight win, the longest current streak in the AHL. The win was Ford’s second for the Bears in 2010-11.
Hershey heads home to host Manitoba on Saturday night. In second place in the AHL’s East Division, the Bears trail first-place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton by nine points. Hershey has two games in hand on the Baby Pens.
Down a level, the trickle-down of Hershey’s goaltending woes left the ECHL Stingrays with Andrew Loewen between the pipes for its Friday night visit to Kalamazoo. Loewen is a 25-year-old Winnipeg native who played collegiate hockey at Canisius College and is in his first year as a pro. He was pulled up from the Columbus Cottonmouths of the Southern Professional Hockey League.
Loewen was nicked for two goals in the first period in his ECHL debut, and he finished with 39 saves on 44 shots as the Stingrays dropped a 5-1 decision to the Wings.
The two teams have a rematch in Kalamazoo on Saturday. South Carolina is third in the ECHL’s South Division, six points behind front-running Greenville.
By The Numbers – Ovechkin led the Caps with 10 shots and four hits. He also led Washington forwards with 22:22 in ice time … Backstrom notched his team-leading fourth multiple-goal game … The Caps scored a power play goal in consecutive games for the first time since Dec. 1-2, but they’ve now gone 29 straight games without multiple power play goals in a game, their longest streak of that type since the start of the 1999-00 season … Three different Caps pivots took at least seven face-offs on the night and only lost one. Jay Beagle and Marcus Johansson were both 7-for-8 (88%) in the circle while David Steckel was 6-for-7 (86%) … Tampa Bay’s Vincent Lecavalier won just two of 14 face-offs through the first 40 minutes and finished 7-for-22 (32%) … Beagle picked up his first assist of the season on Laich’s goal in the second period ... The Caps are now 14-13-4 in games when they surrender the first goal. They have the most wins in the league in that situation, and the third-best record when giving up the first tally of the tilt.
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