Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A NO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 60: Lightning 4 - Capitals 2

The Washington Capitals returned to the friendly confines of Capital One Arena after a 2-1-1 road trip, hosting the Tampa Bay Lightning in what could be a playoff matchup down the road.  It was the Lightning sending a message that they are the deeper, more talented team, at least for the moment, skating off with a 4-2 win.

First Period

It did not take the Lightning long to take the early lead.  Brett Connolly went off for decking Dan Girardi, who did not have the puck, and Tampa Bay scored on the ensuing power play, Brayden Point converting a feed by Ryan Callahan from the left wing boards to beat goalie Braden Holtby through the pads at the 2:30 mark.

Chris Kunitz doubled the Tampa lead at the 16-minute mark when he tipped an Andrej Sustr drive from the right point out of mid-air with the tip of his stick past he left shoulder of Holtby and inside the neat post.

Point made it 3-0 late in the period when he took an Anton Stralman pass at the offensive blue line, blew through three Caps defenders and slipped the puck past Holtby’s right pad at the 17:52 mark.

Tampa Bay went to the locker room tied in shots on goal with the Caps (eight), a 21-14 edge in shot attempts, and a 9-5 edge in faceoffs.  The Caps went to the locker room.

Second Period

The Caps got one back on a power play mid-way through the period.  With Vladislav Namestnikov off for tripping Tom Wilson, Lars Eller one-timed a Dmitry Orlov feed from the top of the right wing circle past goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy’s blocker on the far side to make it 3-1, 9:32 into the period.

It would be all the Caps could get to cut into the lead, though, through 40 minutes.  Washington had a 14-5 edge in shots and a 25-14 edge in shot attempts.  They did tilt the ice more to their advantage.  Alex Ovechkin had a total of four shots on goal (tied with Matt Niskanen) and nine shot attempts through two periods.  Nicklas Backstrom was the only Cap over 50 percent on draws after two periods (5-for-7).

Third Period

The Caps teased in the third period.  In the 11th minute Alex Ovechkin took a cross ice feed from the right point by Matt Niskanen and rifled a shot from the left wing circle past the left pad of Vasilevskiy on the far side to make it a 3-2 game.

However, not two minutes later Nikita Kucherov restored the two-goal margin.  T.J. Oshie dove at a loose puck to keep it in the offensive zone and nudged it to Christian Djoos.  From the top of the circles Djoos backhanded the puck to no one in particular, and Braydon Coburn jumped on the turnover, sending Kucherov off on a breakaway.  Kucherov faked a shot and then slid the puck past Holtby’s pad to give the Lightning their final margin of victory at the 12:58 mark.

Other stuff…

-- In his last four appearances, Braden Holtby is 0-2-2, 5.16, .848.

-- Ovechkin’s goal, his league-leading 36th of the season, was his eighth in 13 games.  Alas, the Caps are just 3-2-2 in the seven games in which he has goals over that span.

-- Ovechkin had nine shots on goal and 19 shot attempts to lead both teams in both categories.

-- Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was charged with four giveaways.

-- Matt Niskanen had five shots on goal, the first time this season he had more than two shots on goal in a game.  He had nine shot attempts.

-- One does not expect a lot of scoring from the fourth line, but this was the sixth straight game in which Jay Beagle did not record a shot on goal.

-- NIskanen was the only Capital to finish in plus territory for the evening (plus-1).

-- The Caps have found home ice a difficult place to play lately.  With this loss, they are 2-4-2 in their last eight games at Capital One Arena.

-- The Caps out-shot Tampa Bay, 37-19.  It is the first time the Caps out-shot an opponent since out-shot the Florida Panthers, 46-34, in a 4-2 win on January 25th. 

-- Think the Caps have defense issues?  The top three defensemen all had 23 or more minutes (NIskanen: 27:12, Orlov: 25:11, John Carlson: 23:00).  The bottom three all had less than 15 minutes (Brooks Orpik: 14:51, Christian Djoos: 13:54, Madison Bowey: 10:24).

In the end…

Well, if this was a measuring stick game, as we opined in the prognosto, then the Caps didn’t measure up.  Their first period was ghastly, and one had the feeling the Lightning were on auto-pilot over the last 40 minutes, content to get out with a win and not a lot of wasted effort.  Sometimes, you look at a player or a team playing a particularly difficult opponent who enjoys a lot of success at that player or team’s expense, and you think that something or someone is in their heads. 

Watching Braden Holtby in goal at the moment, it looks as if his own teammates are in his head.  When he swept the puck away after the Kucherov breakaway goal to seal the decision for the visitors, it looked a lot like disgust in what is taking place in front of him.  In this instance – a turnover just inside the offensive blue line that was turned into a breakaway – it was one more breakdown that the goalie was asked to clean up.  Holtby, for his part, has been unable to clean everything up these days, but the volume of litter would challenge Mr. Clean.  The Caps have 22 games to straighten this out and for Holtby to get his head right again.  If they don’t, the Caps don’t have 30 games left in this season.

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