Sunday, April 07, 2013

A TWO-point night -- Game 39: Capitals 4 - Lightning 2

The Washington Capitals put a bit of space between themselves and the competition in the Southeast Division race tonight as they beat the Tampa Bay Lightning, 4-2, at Verizon Center.

The Caps fell behind, not once, but twice, before coming back with three goals over the last 27 minutes to secure the win.  The first time the Caps fell behind came less than two minutes into the game when Vincent Lecavalier redirected a Martin St. Louis feed for a power play goal just seven seconds after Steve Oleksy was sent off on an interference penalty.

That would be how the first period ended, but the Caps tied the game just 3:14 into the second period when Alex Ovechkin moved to the front of the Lightning net, opened the blade of his stick, and redirected a Jack Hillen drive past goalie Ben Bishop.  The tie lasted barely three minutes when Alex Killorn took a lob pass from Lecavalier at the Caps’ blue line, swept around a flatfooted Hillen, and nudged the puck through the five hole of goalie Michal Neuvirth to restore the Lightning one-goal lead.

That would be the sum of Tampa Bay scoring, though.  The Caps would tie the game once more when John Carlson fired a rocket from just inside the Tampa blue line over the glove of Bishop at 12:54 of the period.  Less than four minutes later the Caps took the lead for good when Joel Ward carried the puck down his off wing, rushed around Nate Thompson, and snapped the puck past Bishop with just 3:39 left in the second period.

That would be it for the scoring until the game's last minute when Alex Ovechkin took a pass off the side boards from John Carlson, skated up the right wing, eluded a stick check from Nate Thompson Alex Killorn (who did so from the Tampa Bay bench, making the ensuing goal automatic), glided into the Lightning zone, and sealed the win with an empty net goal for the final 4-2 margin.

Other stuff…

-- The two goals give Ovechkin 25 for the season and tie him with Steven Stamkos for the league lead.  The 25 goals in 39 games works out to a 53-goal pace per 82 games.  More impressive, though, is that Ovechkin has 15 goals over his last 12 games.  That is a 103-goal pace.  In those 12 games there are only two in which he did not score a goal, both against the New York Islanders.

-- Nicklas Backstrom had another assist.  That is nine in his last four games and 16 in his last 14 games (a 94-assist pace for those who keep track of those 82-game pace things).

-- Backstrom was a busy guy… an assist, a penalty, seven shots on goal (tying career high), three hits, and he won 13 of 20 draws.

-- Marcus Johansson had a four game points streak (1-6-7) ended in this game.

-- Jack Hillen had his first multi-point game for the Caps with a pair of assists.  It was his first multi-point game since he had a pair of assists for the Islanders in a 4-3 win over Montreal on February 10, 2011.

-- 16 of 18 skaters for the Caps were credited with hits.  Only Eric Fehr and Marcus Johansson failed to get one.  Fehr sort of got one when he mixed it up with Martin St. Louis on a faceoff.  And no, Marty did not reach up and punch Fehr in the knee.

-- Joel Ward recorded points on consecutive shifts in the second period, assisting on John Carlson’s goal, then scoring one of his own.  His reward?  Taking a shot off his knee in the third period and not returning to the game.  Ah, but he did win first star of the game, though.

-- The Caps allowed a power play goal and did not record one of their own.  This is the first time this season that they won such a game in regulation time (they did so in a 4-3 overtime win against Boston on March 5th).

-- The Backstrom-Ovechkin-Johansson line had 17 of the 38 shots on goal for the Caps.

-- The Caps had an odd symmetry in the game… 12 even strength shots in each of the first, second, and third periods.

-- Michal Neuvirth played his first game after an 11-game hiatus, and with his making 28 saves on the 30 shots he faced eased his save percentage over the .900 mark for the season (.902).

In the end, the Caps opened up a bit of daylight over the Winnipeg Jets in the Southeast Division, and they still hold a game in hand over the Jets.  They, along with San Jose, have the best last-ten game records in the league (8-1-1).  But now, it gets a bit harder.  The Caps head to Montreal to take on the Canadiens on Tuesday night, and we will get to see if this is just a nice run that the Caps are on or if they are a bona fide playoff threat in the making. 

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 39: Lightning at Capitals, April 7th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Now we are down to it.  Ten games left.  The Washington Capitals hold the thinnest of leads in the Southeast Division, a tie breaker owing to the fact that while they are tied with the Winnipeg Jets with 40 standings points, the Caps reached that mark in fewer games (38) than the Jets (40).  And with those 40 points the Caps do not have enough points to qualify for the top-eight in the Eastern Conference, since the New York Islanders sit in eighth place with 42 points.

That makes this evening’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning just another in what will undoubtedly be nothing other than a series of important games right through to the end of the regular season.  The Capitals come into this game having faced the Lightning twice so far this season, both times in Florida.  Washington split those games, dropping a 6-3 decision on opening night in January, and then beating Tampa Bay by a 4-3 score on Valentine’s Day.

Tampa Bay comes to Washington stuck in a place they might not have thought they would be after a 6-1-0 start to the season in which they outscored opponents by a 37-18 margin.  Since then, the Lightning are 10-18-2, and they have won consecutive games in regulation time only once.  After a promising couple of games to close the month of March – a 2-1 win over Buffalo and a 5-4 trick shot win over the New Jersey Devils – Tampa Bay started April losing two of three games.  Worse, the Lightning are 1-4-0 over their last five road games, and their lone win came against the slumping Carolina Hurricanes. 

What the Lightning will bring to Washington that the Caps did not face in the two games in Tampa is a new coach.  Jon Cooper stepped behind the Lightning bench in relief of fired coach Guy Boucher on March 29th.  In the four games played by the Lightning since Cooper took over, Tampa Bay is 2-1-1, splitting a pair of decisions in the freestyle competition – a 5-4 win over New Jersey in Cooper’s debut and a 3-2 loss to Florida on April 2nd.  Then Tampa Bay split a pair of conventional decisions, a 5-0 win over Carolina and a 4-2 loss to the New York Islanders.

What is unsurprising over those first four games of the Cooper era is that Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis lead the Bolts in scoring.  Stamkos is 2-4-6, and St. Louis is 1-3-4 over those four contests.  But there are a couple of surprises in there, too.  One is that Alex Killorn has a pair of goals and a pair of assists to tie St. Louis in scoring over these four games.  Killorn has put together a respectable rookie season with the Lightning, going 6-10-16, plus-1, in 27 games with Tampa Bay after going 16-22-38, plus-6, in 44 games with Syracuse in the AHL.

The other surprise is not a pleasant one for Lightning fans.  After missing nine games with a broken foot, Vincent Lecavalier returned to the lineup on April 4th against Carolina.  He has but a single assist in the two games played since his return.  What is more, Lecavalier has only one goal in the last 13 games in which he appeared.

Here is how the two teams stack up, numbers-wise…

1.  In the 21 games from February 16th through March 29th, Steven Stamkos recorded 18 goals.  Only six times in those 21 games did he fail to record at least one.  However, he is without a goal in his last three games, his longest streak since going five games without one in early February.

2.  The Lightning sure can light it up late.  Tampa Bay leads the league in third period goals with 54.  That is as many as Florida and the Rangers have scored in the first and second periods combined.  It is more than five teams have scored in the first and third periods combined.

3.  There is little mystery about what sort of game is conducive to a Lightning win.  Tampa Bay has more wins by a three or more goal margin than any team in the league (12).  The Lightning also happen to have the worst record in the league in one-goal games (4-10-2).

4.  And why is that?  Well, Tampa Bay has the best record in the league when leading after one period (13-1-0).  The Lightning have the worst record in the league when trailing after one period (0-10-2).

5.  Only four teams have recorded more fighting majors than the Lightning.  Seven different players have dropped the gloves so far this season with B.J. Crombeen leading the team and tied (with Colton Orr) for the league lead in fighting majors with a dozen.

1.  The Capitals are not a team inclined to resort to violence to settle differences.  Only three teams have fewer fighting majors – Detroit, Carolina, and Edmonton – than Washington (14).

2.  The Caps are not too shabby at scoring third period goals themselves.  Perhaps not as prolific as Tampa Bay, but even with not having scored a third period goal in the 4-3 win over Florida on Saturday night, the Caps are still tied for sixth in total third period goals scored (39).

3.  The good news is that the Caps have won 80 percent of the games they led after two periods.  The bad news is, so what?  22 teams have won at least 80 percent of the games they led after two periods, meaning that there are only eight teams with worse records.

4.  Only four teams in the league have allowed more shots on goal per game than the Caps (31.6/game).  Only Toronto and Edmonton have a worse shots-per-game differential than the Caps (-4.3 shots/game).

5.  On St. Patrick’s Day against the Buffalo Sabres, head coach Adam Oates put Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Marcus Johansson together on the top line for the Caps.  Since then, this trio has 19 of the 37 goals scored by the Caps over 11 games.  Ovechkin is 13-6-19, plus-6.  Backstrom is 3-14-17, plus-7.  Johansson is 3-11-14, plus-8.  As a group they have nine of the 12 power play goals scored by the Caps in that span, Ovechkin recording seven of them.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Tampa Bay: Ben Bishop

When Tampa Bay acquired Anders Lindback in a trade with the Nashville Predators last June, it was seen as an opportunity for the promising Lindback to step out from behind Pekka Rinne’s shadow in Nashville and take on number one goaltender responsibilities of his own.  It did not go especially well.  Lindback is tied for 39th among 47 qualifying goaltenders in goals against average (2.88) and is 35th in save percentage (.903).  Then to top it off, he sustained a high ankle sprain in a loss to Toronto on March 20th.  The Lightning sought to shore up that problem by obtaining Ben Bishop from Ottawa for forward Cory Conacher and a draft pick.   It was another chance for a goalie to step out on his own in Tampa as a number one netminder.  He certainly looked the part in a 45-save shutout of the Carolina Hurricanes in his first game with the Bolts, but he seemed a bit more mortal in 24-for-27 effort in a 4-2 loss to the New York Islanders on Saturday. If he gets the nod in the second half of the Lightning’s weekend back to back, it will be his second career appearance against Washington.  While with the St. Louis Blues in the 2008-2009 season, Bishop gave up four goals on 29 shots in a 4-2 loss to the Caps.

Washington:  Wojtek Wolski

With the injuries to Brooks Laich and now to Martin Erat, Wojtek Wolski could get a chance to skate on left side of the second line for the Caps.  Wolski has appeared in only six games since March 1st, going 2-2-4 in those games.  The Caps are going to need something from the left side to provide a scoring threat from somewhere other than the first line.  He has had some success against the Lightning.  He has more career goals against Tampa Bay than any other team in the Eastern Conference (five in 10 career games).


1.  Better late than ever.  In the first two meetings between the clubs this season the Lightning broke open what was a 3-3- tie after two periods with a three-goal explosion on opening night to win, 6-3, then in the second meeting of the clubs in February the Lightning came back from a 4-1 third period deficit to make a game of it with a pair of goals before losing, 4-3.  Those kinds of third period swoons are not part of a winning recipe.

2.  Don’t be pecked to death by ducks.  It is not a reference to Anaheim, but to the fact that against a team with the big scorers on the top line in Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, the Caps cannot let the undercard beat them.  That means keeping the likes of Alex Killorn and Tom Pyatt (each with two goals in four games since Jon Cooper took over as head coach) off the score sheet.

3.  Killing mood.  Only Columbus has fewer power play goals on the road than Tampa Bay.  The Caps cannot be leaky here and expect to win.  Tampa is a very good 5-on-5 team.

In the end…

This is the last back-to-back set of games this season for the Caps.  They are 3-2-2 in the second half of back-to-backs so far this season.  A win here would be especially important for the Caps, since this game burns one of the games in hand the Capitals hold over Winnipeg in the fight for the Southeast Division lead.  It would also put another two points between the Caps and the Lightning in the Southeast, and since Tampa Bay seems to be the only team other than the Caps playing at a competent level (the Lightning are 5-4-1 over their last ten games), those two points could be important down the road.

Capitals 5 – Lightning 3