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.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps at Lightning, March 7th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

There are worse places on earth to play back-to-back hockey games than south Florida (insert Pittsburgh/Philadelphia joke here), and that is what the Caps are completing tonight – a back-to-back set of games in sunny south Florida. Last night it was a 3-2 overtime win over the Florida Panthers to put the Caps back on top in the Southeast Division, and tonight Washington can open up a three-point lead with a win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

This trip is also a chance for many of the Caps’ players to bond with their fathers, who were invited on this trip. It is one of those mysterious things in life, the bond between father and son, and we were wondering what the secret is. So, we asked some well-known fathers what the key is to forging that bond with their sons.

Jim Anderson…you raised a lovely family in the heartland, two daughters and a son. What was your secret to getting through parenthood?

“Well, Peerless, I found that nothing beats giving a kid a sense of their own identity…”

You mean…

“That’s right, nicknames…’Bud,’ ‘Princess,’ ‘Kitten’…

Sort of like hockey?

“Exactly, except I don’t know that you’d give a hockey player the nickname, ‘Princess.’”

We’ll let Matt Pettinger know. And how about you, Cliff Huxtable? Your family was the epitome of wholesome, middle class virtue. What was your secret?

“Pudding…lots and lots of Jell-o pudding.”

Hmmm…interesting. And what about you, Homer Simpson? Do you have any advice on how to forge that bond?

“I won't lie to you, fatherhood isn't easy, unlike motherhood. But I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world ... except for some mag wheels, that would be sweet.”

Well, what would be sweet would be a Caps win to close out the trip to Florida. And even though the Caps are visiting what is a formidable team on home ice (Tampa Bay leads the Eastern Conference in home wins and is tied with Montreal for the lead in points earned on home ice), the Lightning have been struggling lately. Starting with a 5-2 loss at home to the Caps on February 4th, the Lightning are 5-6-2 overall, 4-4-2 on home ice. Overall, the Lightning look like this…

With 41 goals in 65 games, Steven Stamkos is on a pace for 51 for the season and his second straight Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer. The immediate problem, though, is that Stamkos has not recorded a goal in his last five games and has only one over his last 11 contests (while going minus-7). Maybe it is a product of the streakiness of goal scorers, perhaps it is a case of his getting a heavier ice time burden (averaging almost 22 minutes a game over the last 11 after getting a bit less than 20 minutes a night before that). In what might be an effort to shake Stamkos out of his slump, coach Guy Boucher moved him from center to right wing for Sunday’s practice. In 17 career games against the Caps Stamkos is 8-3-11, including a goal and an assist in five games so far this season.

As part of the shift of Stamkos to the wing, Dominic Moore was given time at center between Stamkos and Martin St. Louis by coach Guy Boucher on Sunday. Moore was described by Boucher as “our best player the past two weeks.” An odd thing to say about a player who is 12-12-24, minus-13 for the season? Well, he is 2-3-5, plus-1 in his last seven games (both goals coming on power plays), and only once has he lost a majority of the draws he took. For a player who gets little power play time compared to the likes of Stamkos or St. Louis (he is 16th on the club with 48 seconds per game), his four power play goals seem rather productive. And here is your odd Dominic Moore fact. He has scored more goals on Mondays this season (three in five games) than he has on any other day of the week. In 21 career games against the Caps he is 2-4-6, with a goal and an assist in five games this season.

The Lightning do not get an extraordinary number of goals from their defensemen (18 overall, compared to 22 for the Caps’ defenseman corps), but they do get scoring contributions. Three defensemen – Brett Clark, Victor Hedman, and Pavel Kubina – all have more than 20 points for the Lightning. Brett Clark is the unlikely leader of that group with eight goals and 23 points. His scoring has more or less dried up over the last several weeks, though. Clark does not have a goal in his last dozen games and has only one assist in his last ten. In 16 career games against Washington, Clark has a goal and an assist, that goal coming in five games played against the Caps this season.

This is the sort of game for which the Lightning obtained goalie Dwayne Roloson. A big game, even though you might get some blather from both teams about it being just another regular season game. In fact, it might be with the Caps in mind that Roloson was brought to Tampa. In 16 regular season games against Washington he is 8-5-0, 2.19, .919, with four shutouts. Two of those shutouts came at the expense of the Capitals eight days apart in early January. He has faced the Caps four times this season, one of those appearances coming when he was tending goal for the New York Islanders (a 2-1 loss in October).

So, that covers three of Roloson’s appearances against the Caps this season, two for Tampa Bay and one for the Islanders. What of that fourth one? That would be the game that started the Lightning on their recent 5-6-2 funk. The Caps beat the Lightning, 5-2, in that matchup, Roloson allowing four goals on 35 shots. Starting with that game Roloson is 4-5-1, 3.38, .878 as he gets ready for tonight.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Tampa Bay: Steve Downie

Last season Steve Downie established himself as a player with as much potential as a scorer as he displayed in racking up penalty minutes. With 22 goals in 78 games it looked as though Downie could provide the kind of supplementary scoring the Lightning would need to take some of the scoring heat off Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. Well, this year did not start well in fulfilling that promise. In his first 31 games Downie recorded three goals. He was somewhat more productive in his next ten games, scoring five goals in that span. Part of the problem is that he has missed 14 games to ankle and back injuries, and now he is listed as “day-to-day” in what appears to be a recurrence of his ankle problems. But complicating his situation is his on-ice behavior against Boston last Thursday, a game in which he had an assist on the only goal in a 2-1 loss, but one in which he also took a ten-minute misconduct penalty for some confrontational antics. If the Lightning are to retake the Southeast Division lead from the Caps and win it in the end, having Downie on the ice contributing on the score sheet will be important. If he plays tonight, he has to exhibit some of that potential he showed last season.

Washington: Matt Bradley

Sixteen points might not sound like a lot, especially when they have come in 36 games, but that is how many points Matt Bradley had in 36 career games against the Lightning coming into this season, twice as many as the next highest point total he had against any other team. This season he has not registered a point against Tampa Bay in three games. With one point in his last 16 games, the Caps could use some production out of The Professor.


1. Better Late Than Never. Neither team is especially adept (by NHL standards, at least) in holding leads when they score first. Tampa Bay and Washington are 20th and 22nd, respectively, in the NHL in winning percentage when scoring first. However, while these two teams rank first and second in the league in winning percentage when allowing the first goal, it is the Caps that are the only team to have won more games than they have lost in regulation when allowing that first goal.

2. Stymie Stamkos. We’ve probably made the point before, but Stamkos really is the key here. He has scored at almost a goal per game pace in wins (33 goals in 37 wins). If he gets a goal, it very well means a win for the home team.

3. Score. In three wins against the Lightning this season the Caps have 17 goals. In two losses, none. And since Tampa Bay has allowed 43 goals in their last 13 games (ok, only 10 in their last five), do the math.

In the end, this game might be the tipping point of the Caps’ season. It has been largely disappointing to date at the individual and team level, if such can be said of a 36-win team at this point of the season. The Caps are catching the Lightning at a moment when they are not doing well what they do best – score goals. Tampa Bay has only eight goals scored in their last five games. If the Caps can hold the Lightning to that kind of output, the Lightning goaltending might not be up to the challenge. Beating the Lightning and getting a three-point foothold of a lead over Tampa Bay could enable the Caps to set their sights on bigger fish and bigger prizes down the road.

Caps 4 - Lightning 2