Saturday, March 20, 2010

A TWO-point night: Caps 3 - Lightning 1

The Caps finished up their four-game road trip tonight with a 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, bringing their record to 3-0-1 on the trip, upping their record to 7-1-2 since the Olympic break, and putting some more distance between themselves and second place in the East.

It was a chippy game from start to finish, not surprising with Lightning coach Rick Tocchet giving jerseys to Zenon Konopka and Steve Downie. Both of those players did what they do, Konopka getting into a scrap with Scott Walker for the Caps, while Downie yapped a lot and took a dumb penalty late in the third period with the Lightning down 3-1, effectively ending whatever chance the Lightning had for a comeback.

While those two were doing what they do, the Caps did what they do. Tomas Fleischmann potted an early goal, Alex Ovechkin got one on a breakaway, and Alexander Semin got one in the third period to cement the win. Jose Theodore made it all stand up by stopping 33 of 34 shots for his 26th win.

Other stuff…

-- First period shots for the Caps… four. Scott Walker was the only Cap with two. He was also the only Cap who didn’t get a goal on a shot. Tomas Fleischmann and Alex Ovechkin scored on their only shots of the period.

-- Think Tampa Bay dominated the territorial battle in the first two periods? They out-attempted the Caps in shots 23-10 in the first period, 19-13 in the second. They won the faceoff battle 14-4 in the second period. The Lightning had 12 power play shots through two periods, while the Caps had a total of 13 shots. That the Caps held a 2-1 lead after one period, then two, was miraculous. Or the product of some locked in goaltending by Jose Theodore. No softies, no rebounds where Lightning could get to them.

-- Then came the third period… the Caps outshot Tampa Bay 16-8, they out attempted them 24-16. That’s called “slamming the door.”

-- Good thing, too. The Caps took four penalties in the second period (one fighting major and four minor penalties). That followed taking three minors in the first period, one of them a too-many-men-on-the-ice call with less than two seconds left in the period and the Caps on a power play. That’s called “playing with fire.”

-- The third period couldn’t save the Cap in the circle, though… they were 22 up and 36 down. No one not named “Steckel” finished as well as .500 (David Steckel was 9-for-17). But as bad as the Caps were in the circle overall, they were still just one short of .500 in the defensive zone (10-for-21).

-- Alex Ovechkin had one hit tonight, recorded when he drilled Nate Thompson along the boards midway through the third period. He was roundly booed… get used to it. Every time he hits someone, he (or the referee) is going to hear it.

-- The event summary says Eric Belanger played tonight. For the life of me, I can’t remember seeing him out there. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I’m thinking more the latter.

-- Eric Fehr might not be the most efficient offensive player in the league, but he can see the top from where he is. 10 minutes, he gets an assist on a swell feed to the crease to set up Tomas Fleischmann’s goal to open the scoring. That makes a four-game points streak for Fehr, during which he’s averaged 11:08 a game in ice time. He has a point in seven of his last nine games.

-- Mike Green led the Caps in hits tonght. I will repeat that… Mike Green led the Caps in hits tonight.

-- Mike Green led both teams in hits tonight. No, seriously… Mike Green led both teams in hits tonight.

-- Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, and Steve Downie… 0-0-0, -4. They did have nine shots on goal though, testimony to how well Jose Theodore played.

-- Check Theodore’s jersey and pads. We could swear, they were made of Velcro. Nothing got loose where a Lightning player could pounce on it. The only goal he allowed came when Jeff Schultz lost track of Vincent Lecavalier, who put back a second chance while Schultz was looking for him.

-- That makes 16-0-2, 2.40, .927 and a shutout for Theodore since losing to the Bolts on January 12th.

-- That was the first time since the season’s opening night against Boston that the Caps were perfect in killing five or more penalties in a road game (5-for-5).

-- You could tell Joe Corvo took a seat tonight… Mike Green had 6:36 in power play ice time.

-- OK, we’ll ask… how many players on the planet make that pass that Nicklas Backstrom made to spring Alex Ovechkin loose for his goal? It might not be just one – Backstrom – but it’s not more than three.

-- In 1983-1984 the Caps won 22 road games to set a club record. That record was tied tonight with the win. The Caps are 22-10-6 with three road games remaining (Carolina, Columbus, Pittsburgh).

-- This was the Caps’ 48th win to put them within two of the club record for wins in a season with ten games left.

-- If the NHL ever puts “yapping” in the rule book as a minor penalty, Steve Downie will never see NHL ice again.

You would have to be rather picky to find a lot of fault with the Caps on this road trip. A 3-0-1 record, outscoring the opposition 17-11, 4-for-16 on the power play, and perhaps most important, they were 14-for-16 on the penalty kill (87.5 percent).

Now the Caps have four days off to get ready to host the Penguins at Verizon Center. If the Penguins lose Monday at Detroit against the Red Wings, they will come to Verizon Center on Wednesday with no better than 91 points, trailing Washington by at least 15 points with nine games left to them to play. If that is the case, the Caps could be in a position to eliminate the Penguins from the Eastern Conference title contention on Wednesday.

Sort of makes the game worth going to, doesn’t it?

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Lightning, March 20th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Tonight, the Washington Capitals end their last long road trip of the year, finishing up their four game swing with a trip to Tampa to take on the Lightning for the third time in 16 days. It is their last visit to the left coast of Florida this season, where they have been fantastic and fallen flat in two games. They rode a Semyon Varlamov shutout to a 3-0 win back on December 7th, then they were blitzed, 7-4, on January 12th. Tonight, they visit one last time an arena that, once filled when the Lightning were Stanley Cup contenders, is among the emptiest of the league. The Lighting are 20th in league attendance this year, 26th in capacity filled. Hockey is a harder sell these days, and…

“I could help with this…”

Excuse me?

“I could help sell tickets.”

And you are…

“Jingle… Jimmy Jingle.”

That’s not you’re real name, is it?

“Does it matter?”

Whatever. So, you can help the Lightning. How?

“It’s all in the name, pal.”


“No, Jingle, you putz.”

You seem to have a rather surly attitude for a guy named “Jingle.”

“Wouldn’t you?...folks call you ‘Bells’ or ‘Jingle Jangle Jingle.’”

Yeah, about that help.

“Surely you’ve heard my work.”

Writing jingles?

“Yeah… try this one on…. “I want my TampyBayTampaBayTampaBay…”

Like the restaurant thing…

“You got it. Or maybe, “Give me back that Tampa Bay…Give me that Bay..”

Sounds fishy…

“Cute. Or maybe to target the kids, ‘Light-ning, Tampa Light-ning, what kinds of kid like Tampa Light-ning? Fat kids, Skinny kids, kids who climb on rocks. Tough kids, sissy kids, even kids with chicken pox love Light-ning, Tampa Light-ning. The team kids think's alright."

That’s a stretch, don’t you think?

“Well, I can’t exactly use ‘Tampa Bay is M’mm M’mm Good,’ now, can I?”

Truth in advertising?

“You got it.”

Well, while Mr. Jingles pens a few more candidates, there is a game to play. This being the third time in two weeks these teams have met, not much has changed since we looked at the Lightning here and here. Tampa Bay split the previous two games in this mini-set, losing to the Caps, 5-4, back on March 4th, and then taking a 3-2 decision on March 12th.

Tampa Bay has seen its tenuous position as a playoff contender slipping away since March 1st. The Lightning are 2-6-1 for the month, and there really isn’t any secret what their problem is. Their offense has dried up – 13 goals for in their last six games (1-4-1). And, they’re leaking like a sieve on defense – four times allowing at least five goals in a game this month (3.89/game overall).  Their overall numbers look like this:

Leading goal scorer Steven Stamkos started the month like a house a-fire… seven goals in his first five games. But he is now on a four game streak without one, his longest streak of the season since a six-game silent streak that ended on January 6th. It is hardly a coincidence that the goalless streak has coincided with a stretch of four games in which the Lightning have only seven goals overall. Tampa Bay hasn’t received much by was of secondary support.

Of those seven goals in their last four games, Vincent Lecavalier has three of them, including the game-winner in the 3-2. Lecavalier’s problem this month is not so much his scoring (he is 6-1-7 for the month, but he is a minus-8 in nine games). Of the 35 goals allowed by Tampa Bay this month, he was on the ice for 13 of them.

Regarding the secondary scoring problem, a bright light shines on Alex Tanguay as far as this goes. Tanguay is not exactly playing himself into a big pay day (he is an unrestricted free agent after this season). Since notching a goal and an assist against the Islanders on February 4th, he is without a goal in his last 14 games, has only three assists and is minus-8.

If that isn’t bad enough, the Lightning could be missing two important cogs. Ryan Malone will be out as a result of knee surgery. He also has an upper body injury. That follows some serious injury to his production on the ice… 15 goals in his first 22 games, six in his next 43 games, and none in his last 15 preceding his injury.

Mattias Ohlund appears likely to miss this one, too. The defenseman has an ankle sprain that has kept him out of the Lightning’s last four games. That’s almost 23 minutes of ice time that has to be replaced.

It will place more pressure on goalie Antero Niittymaki, who you would think will get the call tonight. He has been in goal for seven of the nine games this month (including the last four) and defeated the Caps in both of his appearances against them this year. He owns a 7-2-1 career record against Washington (including wins in his last five decisions), 2.35, .927.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Tampa Bay: Steve Downie

It’s like the quote from Michael Corleone in Godfather III.. “Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in.” Just when you think Downie is turning into a living, breathing hockey player (fifth on the team in scoring with 41 points), he goes and does something stupid by trying to snap Sidney Crosby’s leg off at the knee early on in a 2-1 loss to Pittsburgh last Sunday (he was fined $1,000). Tonight he will take the ice in Alex Ovechkin’s first game back from suspension, and these two have had their moments already this year. Downie, you might recall, was about to square off with Ovechkin in the 7-4 Lightning win on January 12th. Ovechkin and Downie got tangled up earlier (Ovechkin accused later of kneeing Downie), and when the two, who served coincidental penalties, emerged from the penalty box they squared off to settle things. Matt Bradley intervened on behalf of the captain and fought Downie. Tonight’s question… Good Stevie (a hockey player) or Bad Stevie (looking to “Crosby” Ovechkin)?

Washington: Alex Ovechkin

The last time Alex Ovechkin was suspended (and we hope that is the last time we have to type those words), he returned to face the Lightning in Tampa Bay. He scored two goals, including the game winner, in a 3-0 win over Tampa Bay on December 7th. In 35 career games against the Lightning he is 23-26-49, including three goals and six assists in five games this year. Then there is the whole 50th-goal celebration thing on St. Pete Times Forum ice last season. Things happen when Ovechkin plays in Tampa. Expect that to happen again.


1. Familiarity breeds contempt. The Caps are 16-3-1 against the Southeast Division this year. But this month they are 2-1-1 against the Division, and both wins were of the one-goal variety, one of those in overtime. The Caps can’t treat any opponent with contempt, and their Southeast Division opponents have shown no fear in playing them lately.

2. Be gritty with Niitty. Antero Niittymaki has a fine record against the Caps. He has a fine record at home (11-7-3, 2.32, .928, and a shutout). But he has lost his last three at home and gave up five goals on 22 shots his last time out, a 6-2 loss to the Sabres, one in which he allowed three goals on 14 shots in the first period. It’s the 14 number that is important. Get on him and get after him early.

3. High wind warning. Only Ottawa has suffered more three-plus goal losses than Tampa Bay. Marry that to the fact that Tampa is having trouble scoring goals, and the Caps lead the league in goals scored in the first period (ok, they lead in second and third period goals scored, too), and you would have to think that if the Caps get an early lead, it could be a blow out.

In the end, whatever chance the Lightning had to earn a playoff spot is all but gone. They have had a poor month for a team fighting for that last spot, they are suffering injuries from a couple of important players, their leading goal scorer is in a mini-slump at the worst time, and they just have too big a hole (six points with 12 games remaining) with too many teams to climb over (three) to have anything but the dimmest chance to make the top eight. Given where the Caps reside in the standings, the Lightning cannot even play the role of spoiler. Pride will be on the Lightning bench tonight, and that is no small factor in hockey. But it won’t be enough…

Caps 5 – Lightning 2