Monday, March 07, 2011

A TWO-point night -- Game 67: Capitals 2 - Lightning 1 (OT/Gimmick)

Caps fans might be forgiven for thinking the calendar rolled forward to May, but that’s the sort of thought that would have come naturally watching tonight’s game between the Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning. The Caps spotted the Lightning a first period goal, tied it late, then won it in the Gimmick to skate off with a 2-1 win and a two-point lead in the Southeast Division.

This one had everything. The Lightning couldn’t light the lamp early, but they rang the bell – goalie Michal Neuvirth’s bell. Twenty-one seconds into the game Nate Thompson launched a shot with such force off Neuvirth’s mask that it snapped the straps and knocked the mask off Neuvirth’s head. It was the first shot of the game.

Neuvirth finished the period, allowing only a power play goal when Sean Bergenheim deflected a Martin St. Louis drive, but he couldn’t answer the bell for the second period. Braden Holtby took over and slammed the door, stopping all 21 shots he faced, including a remarkable blocker/glove save on a Simon Gagne shot at what looked like a sure goal into an empty net.

Holtby’s heroics in goal gave the Caps a chance, and Alexander Semin took advantage of it when late in the third period he backed off defenseman Brett Clark with a hard rush down the left side. Semin almost lost control of the puck as he was readying a shot, and the split-second muff seemed to work to give Semin a shooting lane with Clark as a screen. He wristed the puck low to the far side of goalie Dwayne Roloson, and Roloson could not glove the puck down before it sped past him into the back of the net.

That was it, until Bettman’s Miracle, where Alex Ovechkin fed off the boos of the St. Pete Forum crowd and scored the only “goal” of the Gimmick. It was what Ovechkin might call a “sick” goal, coming when he skated wide left, circled to the middle, showed Roloson the puck as if he was going to deke left, pulled it back and roofed the puck, launching the water bottle into the air with the freshly killed Roloson carcass lying in the crease. At the other end, Braden Holtby saw three shots, he stopped three shots, and the Caps skated off with another point added to their division lead over the Lightning as they head home.

Other stuff…

-- Uh, Coach? What were you thinking? Adam Hall? Dominic Moore? In the trick shot competition? Guy Boucher had the league’s leading goal scorer and second leading point-getter on the bench, and he had the league’s third leading point-getter on the bench. But neither Steven Stamkos nor Martin St. Louis took a turn in the Gimmick. As we noted from the Tampa press in the pre-game, Moore had been described as the best player for the Lightning for the past couple of weeks. Maybe this was a reward. Hall is not generally thought of as the sort of skill player who would shine in a shootout. But it might surprise you that Hall led the Lightning in shootout chances taken before he took the ice in this one (2-for-7), and Moore led the Lightning in goals (3-for-6). As for St. Louis and Stamkos? A combined 0-for-8 on the year.

-- Boucher sent Vincent Lecavalier out for the third round, where he failed. It was the fifth time he took a turn in the shootout this year, the fifth time he failed. Stamkos, St. Louis, and Lecavalier…0-for-13 combined. If there was a problem with the strategy, it might have been sending Lecavalier out. Victor Hedman (2-for-6) was the only other Lightning player left who has scored a shootout goal this season (Ryan Malone being out with an injury).

-- Braden Holtby played superbly, but the Caps defense as a whole, from the goalie on out played a spectacular game over the last two periods and overtime. Twenty one shots in total, only seven in the third period and overtime, combined. Quite an effort from a group that played an overtime game the previous night.

-- Before Nicklas Backstrom left the game late in the second period, he was having a nice game. Three shots on goal, two minutes of PK time, winner of all seven draws he took. Wouldn’t have been surprised if he got a point had he stayed.

-- Two power plays in regulation, 3:34 in power play time…no shots on goal. One power play in regulation, 1:16 of power play time…six shots on goal. They did everything but, as they say, put the puck in the net.

-- Ovechkin had one shot on goal in 21:41 of regulation ice time, three in 2:58 of overtime.

-- Brooks Laich and Jason Arnott might have been kicking themselves if this one ended differently. Laich had Roloson down and out on a mini-break but was too close-in to lift the puck over Roloson’s right pad. Arnott backhanded a puck under Roloson on another occasion, but the puck slid just wide of the far post.

-- The Caps were 14-for-21 on defensive zone draws. Easier to play defense when you’re not letting the other guys start plays in your zone.

-- Stamkos and St. Louis were held to a combined four shots on goal, and only two of them came with both John Carlson and Karl Alzner on the ice (Scott Hannan was on for Alzner for the other two).

-- That makes six straight games without a power play goal. Of course, the absence of chances makes scoring such goals quite difficult. The Caps had only 14 chances in those six games, five of them coming in the first of those games (a 6-0 loss to the Rangers). They are 3-for-40 in their last 14 games (7.5 percent), 14-for-135 over their last 43 games (10.4 percent, covering a span of games since the last time they had a multi-power play goal game).

-- Alexander Semin scored a goal, his 24th. Caps are 16-0-0 when Semin scores a goal.

-- The win makes the Caps the only team in the league to have won at least half the games in which they allowed the first goal (20-16-4).

In the end, it had the look and feel of a playoff game, although if it was a playoff game we might still be playing (there being no Gimmicks in the playoffs…yet). It was the fifth straight win for the Caps, and the eighth one-goal win in their last eight wins (the last two-or-more goal win coming in a 3-0 shutout of Pittsburgh on February 6th). Since a three-game losing streak in early February (All to Pacific Division teams), the Caps are 8-2-0. You can’t say that a switch has been flipped, not with the Caps scoring only 24 goals in the 8-2-0 run (seven of them coming in the first game of the ten, a 7-6 win over Anaheim). But the Caps have allowed only 24 goals in those ten games, half of them coming in the win over Anaheim and a 6-0 loss to the Rangers. Twelve goals in the other eight games is rather impressive.

Now the Caps get three games at home to try to add to their division lead and to climb past Boston and Philadelphia in the chase for the top spot in the East. It is yet another opportunity to do good things in a season where that consistency in getting them done has been lacking. One thing that hasn’t lacked for consistency is the thing no one thought this team was capable of doing – playing defense. And tonight the Caps showed that this is not a fad, this is who they have become.

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