“Escaped” might be too kind a term.
The Capitals got off on the right foot in the first period. Just over two minutes into the contest, Stanislav Galiev intercepted a pass up the wall by Alex Killorn in the Tampa Bay zone and circled from out of the corner to the right of Lightning goalie Ben Bishop. Galiev saw an opening from the edge of the faceoff circle and fired the puck at the net. The puck looked headed wide on the short side, but it rode up on Jay Beagle at the side of the net and hit him in the face. The puck dropped to Beagle’s feet and from below the goal line he batted the puck off of Bishop’s backside and into the net to give the Caps a 1-0 lead just 2:09 into the game.
That goal was the only scoring for the next 31 minutes. Just after the 11-minute mark of the second period, Evgeny Kuznetsov worked some magic. There was a lot that went on as the play unfolded. It started with John Carlson from between the hash marks firing a puck that went wide to Bishop’s right and skittered around the corner. Andrej Sustr tried to move the puck off the wall to the middle, but the pass was picked off by Carlson, who turned and directed another attempt at the Lightning net. And then something very odd happened.
Ryan Callahan blocked Carlson’s shot, and the puck bounced to Kuznetsov, who grabbed it and started circling toward the net. For some odd reason, Callahan laid out, perhaps trying to deny a cross-ice pass (or maybe he just fell), and then Anton Stralman spun from his knees (what he was doing there was a bit of a mystery) and tried to swipe the puck off Kuznetsov’s stick as he was going by. It looked as if Callahan and Stralman, laid out on the ice end-to-end, were trying to create some sort of human chain gang.
While this was going on, Kuznetsov curled to the net as if he was going to try to loop around and come out the other side for a shot. Bishop might have been thinking the same thing, because he looked to cheat just a touch off the near post. It was enough for Kuznetsov to pull the puck to his forehand just as he was crossing below the goal line, bring the puck back across the ling, and tuck it just inside the post and gently over the goal line to give the Caps a 2-0 lead that they would carry into the third period.
The 2-0 lead proved to be, if not the most dangerous lead in hockey, then the most treacherous. Tampa Bay made things interesting in the third period when, on their third power play of the game, Nikita Kucherov one-timed a puck past goalie Braden Holtby to cut the Caps’ lead in half.
That would be all the scoring for either team, though, as Holtby stood tall and ensured the back of his net would be left undisturbed for the remainder of the contest, the Caps skating off with a 2-1 win.
-- 31-0-4. That is the Caps’ record in the last 35 games in which Jay Beagle recorded a point. Beegsy is happy…
-- Reasonable people will take winning and playing poorly over playing well and losing 100 times out of 100. But the Caps were demolished in possession numbers in this game. For the game, Tampa Bay out-attempted the Caps by a 62-37 margin at 5-on-5. That’s a 37.4 Corsi-for percentage. For the uninitiated in Corsi, that’s not good. Even slathering on some score-adjusted sauce doesn’t make it much more palatable (41.4). And while the third period was really bad (23-7 shot attempt advantage for the Lightning), it was not as if it was a case of good numbers in the first period (20-13, Lightning) or the second period (19-17, Lightning) being replaced by prevent defense (numbers from war-on-ice.com).
- Tampa Bay came into this game among the leaders in games in which they allowed opponents two or fewer goals (fifth in the league). They also happened to be among the leaders in games in which they scored two or fewer goals (fourth). They added to their totals on both sides of the ledger. It was the tenth game this season for the Lighting in which both they and their opponents scored two or fewer goals.
-- Speaking of two or fewer goals, the two goals scored by the Caps makes it nine times in their last 15 games that they have been held to two or fewer in the hockey portion of the contest.
-- The Capitals are now 8-0-0 following losses, outscoring opponents by a 28-12 margin.
-- This comeback from a loss in the previous game went against type in one respect. Before tonight, the Caps faced four shorthanded situations in a game following a loss just once in seven occurrences (the killed three of four in a 5-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on November 12th). They faced four such situations in this game, also killing three of four.
-- Of the four minor penalties leading to Tampa Bay power plays, three were the result of tripping calls. Matt Niskanen was caught twice cashing in frequent flyer miles for a trip.
-- How many games do the Caps win when Alex Ovechkin records just one shot on goal. Well, this would make it two this year. The other was in a 3-2 win in Montreal against the Canadiens on December 3rd. And how many times has Alex Ovechkin been held to one shot on goal this season? …two.
-- Braden Holtby is a lousy guest. He comes into your place, drinks all your beer, eats all your snacks, leaves crumbs in the seat cushions. And wins games, too. With this performance, Holtby’s road record is now 7-2-1, 1.99, .929. Only once in ten road games has he allowed more than two goals, a 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers on November 3rd.
-- Andre Burakovsky had a difficult night. He banged a shot off the crossbar and a pipe in the first period, then he got just two shifts in the third period (none in the last 8:43). More hard lessons to be learned.
In the end…
The Capitals are relying a bit too much on their goaltender to bail them out of games. Philipp Grubauer is not yet polished enough at this level to do it regularly, and he was unable to steal a win against the Florida Panthers when the Caps’ offense (and defense for that matter) wasn’t working well. Braden Holtby is sufficiently accomplished to steal games, but it is not something on which the Caps will want to depend so much over the course of a long season with 54 games yet to play in the regular season. The skaters have to do more in the other end – not just scoring, which certainly would be welcome, but in tilting the ice to the offensive end with better possession numbers.
Still, this is a team that plays with a consistency of performance (scoring, wins and losses) that is rather remarkable as deep into the season as they are. By this time last season, through 28 games, the Caps had already recorded four instances of two or more consecutive losses, including a five-game losing streak. This is a team that is now 52-22-8 over its last 82 games. The Capitals will be tested, though, as they head to Pittsburgh for the last contest of the three-game road trip and the Penguins under their new head coach. If this season’s history is a guide, they will hardly be fazed.