Familiar Formula – For the second time in as many games, the Caps found themselves facing a wounded animal on home ice. On Wednesday, the Pittsburgh Penguins dragged a five-game losing streak into Verizon Center a night after succumbing 5-1 to the Ottawa Senators on home ice.
Tonight, the Tampa Bay Lightning lugged a five-game losing streak of their own into the Phone Booth a night after they were humbled on home ice, 5-2 at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Both times, the Caps extended those losing streaks to six games with one-goal victories. Friday’s triumph came by a 4-3 count over the Bolts, in a game that was closer than it needed to be.
Washington jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first, getting a pair of power play goals before the game was even six minutes old. Alex Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer, respectively, accounted for those tallies. Brouwer added an even-strength strike early in the second, but then the Caps were guilty of coasting.
Tampa Bay’s Tom Pyatt pulled the Bolts within two at 17:06 of the second. Lightning sniper Steven Stamkos ended the Caps’ streak of penalty killing dominance on home ice with a power play goal at 16:36 of the third, pulling the Lightning within a single strike at 3-2.
Brouwer completed the hat trick with a hair under a minute to go; his empty-netter made it 4-2. That turned out to be a key goal as Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier scored to make it 4-3 with 10.2 seconds left.
“I think guys are frustrated that we had that lead, 3-1, and then a couple penalties and we just couldn’t get any momentum,” says Caps defenseman Karl Alzner. “Then [Brouwer] has that big goal to get his hat trick, and we sit back a little too much.
“You’ve got to give [the Lightning] credit, though, too. They came hard and got pucks to the net. It’s frustrating that they scored those goals, but at the same time, you win. So it’s kind of bittersweet. You’ve still got to be happy with the win.”
Fast Firsts – For the sixth straight game and the eighth time in the last nine home games, the Caps scored the game’s first goal, scored in the first period and did not trail at any point of the contest.
Washington has not trailed on home ice in a month’s time, since Dec. 13 in a 5-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.
“We’re doing a real good job at home,” says Brouwer, “coming out early, getting a goal, sustaining the lead, doing what we need to do to win games. But we have to carry that over on the road. I think we have two more home games here before we go out on the road.
“With our fans and with our building here, it’s real easy to play at home. But we have to take that mentality and that intensity out on the road and start winning games there as well.”
First Fight – Alzner engaged in the first fight of his NHL career in the second period of Friday’s game, taking on the always brave Steve Downie, who was fighting for the fifth time this season and the 25th time in his five-year NHL career.
“He gives those extra shots all the time,” says Alzner of Downie. “You either take it or you don’t take it. You’ve got to choose one or the other. The guys were chirping a little bit after the last game when me and [Pittsburgh’s Tyler] Kennedy got into it. He got a good cross-check in on me and we never ended up doing anything. That was in the back of my mind a little bit.
“[Downie] had my stick; there was no way I could get it away from him. He was ready to do something, and I gave him what he wanted I guess. It was my first pro fight; pretty good.
The fight was Alzner’s first at any level since a Sept. 22, 2007 Western League bout that came two days before Alzner’s 19th birthday. That scrap came while Alzner was playing junior hockey for the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen; he fought against J.D. Watt of the Red Deer Rebels.
“I know him,” says Alzner of Downie. “I know his strength. I know what he does. The only thing I thought was maybe a bad idea was when I had him tied up and I tried to throw that punch, and I lost my grip, and I was like, ‘Okay, this might be a bad idea.’ Then, just from watching [Matt Hendricks] and the way he always turns his head, that’s what I was trying to do. He threw me over; I had no chance to stand up anymore. It was all right.”
The two were still barking at each other from their respective penalty boxes. According to Alzner, that’s because Downie tried to throw a late jab as the two were on their way down to the ice.
“I was a little frustrated,” says Alzner. “He knows I am not a fighter. We know each other; he knows that. Maybe you just caught up a little bit in the fight but that one punch right at the end – which I got a little mark from – was when I was on my way down to the ice. I was a little rattled about that, and that’s what I was saying to him. He didn’t really have anything to say after that, so it was kind of over.”
Movin’ On Up – Friday’s Washington win coupled with Florida’s loss to the Penguins slides the Caps two points closer to the Cats in the race for the Southeast Division crown.
The Capitals are now just two points behind the Panthers in the standings and they are 10 points ahead of the Lightning.
“I think we’ve got to start winning some games here,” says Caps defenseman Dennis Wideman. “We want to finish up well before the all-star break. We’ve got to put some distance between us and the teams behind us.”
Turbo Power – For the fifth time in 42 games this season, the Capitals put a crooked number up in the power play goal column. They’re 5-0 in those five games, and all five of those games have come at home.
Shot Down – The Lightning fired 64 shots toward the net to Washington’s 38 on the night. The Caps had only 20 shots on goal, finishing with 30 or fewer shots on net for the 13th straight game.
The Capitals are 8-4-1 in those 13 contests.
Only 13 of the Capitals’ 20 shots on net tonight came at even strength; the other seven came on the power play.
Scoring Triple On Singles Night – Brouwer collected his first NHL hat trick when he potted what proved to be a key empty net goal in the game’s final minute.
Brouwer thought he had a hat trick once before in his NHL career.
“I thought I had one a couple of years ago against Colorado,” says Brouwer, “but they changed a goal on me between periods and I didn’t hear it. So I celebrated; I got the puck and everything. But this was my first real one.”
That near miss hat trick game came while Brouwer was still with Chicago, playing against the Avs. The two-goal game came on Dec. 13, 2010 in a 7-5 loss to the Avalanche at Colorado.
Putting The Hammer Down – For the second straight game, the Caps laid the body consistently on a tired team. Washington recorded 39 hits in Wednesday’s win over the Penguins, and they were credited with 33 body blows on the Bolts tonight.
The Wayback Machine – Thirty years ago today, the Caps hosted the smallest home crowd (3,284) in their history as few cared to brave the elements and head to the Capital Centre during a winter storm. The Caps and Oilers played to a 6-6 tie in that one, getting a goal from Dennis Maruk (his 31st of the season) with 10 seconds left in regulation after Bengt Gustafsson beat Wayne Gretzky on an offensive zone draw.
Six years ago today – also on Friday the 13th – Caps captain Alex Ovechkin notched the first hat trick of his NHL career, scoring all three goals as the Caps took a 3-2 win over the Ducks in Anaheim.
(Hat tip to Carter Myers on the 1982 note.)
Down On The Farm – The ECHL South Carolina Stingrays took a 4-1 road decision from the Trenton Titans on Friday. Chris Doyle scored twice and Zach Tarkir and David de Kastrozza added single markers to account for the Stingrays’ offense.
Daren Machesney made 27 saves in goal to earn the win.
The 19-16-1-1 Stingrays are still fourth in the ECHL’s South Division, but they’re only four points off the pace being set by front-running Greenville.
South Carolina visits Elmira on Saturday.
By The Numbers – Wideman led the Caps with 27:29 in ice time … Ovechkin led the Caps with four shots on net … Brouwer paced the Caps with seven hits … Nine different Capitals and 10 different members of the Lightning took at least one face-off … Stamkos’ goal was his 30th of the season; he led the Lightning with five shots on net.
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