In a battle for first place in the Southeast Division at the Verizon Center on Tuesday night, the Washington Capitals offense totally sputtered again and as a result they were beaten in overtime, by the Tampa Bay Lightning, 1-0, on Martin St. Louis’ rebound goal with 2:16 remaining. Dwayne Roloson, starting his first game for the Bolts since being acquired this past Saturday from the New York Islanders, played very well in net stopping all 34 shots he faced but at the other end Semyon Varlamov (37 saves) was on top of his game as well. The Caps do pick up a point in this tilt and fall to 23-12-6 (52 points) while Tampa is now 24-11-5 (53 points) as they head to Pittsburgh to play the Penguins on Wednesday night.
Here are the highlights and analysis of a contest played before the 83rd straight sellout in DC:
– There were several positives tonight to go along with the strong goaltending from Varly. First the play of John Carlson and Karl Alzner on defense was once again stellar as they kept the Bolts top line of Steven Stamkos, Ryan Malone, and St. Louis off the board in regulation. Second, the Caps dominated from the faceoff dot again going 29-21 with Dave Steckel winning 13 of 18 draws, many of which were key ones down the stretch in his own zone. Finally, the penalty killing was SUPERB in three shorthanded situations allowing only five power play shots on net to the fourth rated unit in the NHL.
– After dominating the second period, the Caps outshot Tampa 21-13 in that middle frame, one would have expected Washington to keep up the pressure in the third period and prevail at home. I’ll give credit to Roloson for his play but let’s face it, the Washington offense is missing in action. Without a real second line center there is enormous pressure on the top line and the power play to convert and they simply aren’t getting it done. Alexander Semin has 0 goals in his last 13 games and I put a good deal of that on the lack of a capable pivot. #28 also needs to pay the price and go into some high traffic areas, as well.
– As for the power play, it is time for coach Bruce Boudreau and assistant coach Dean Evason to blow that thing up, it just is not working (in a 5 for 50 rut). It is very clear that the shots are primarily going to come from one guy, Alexander Ovechkin. Nicklas Backstrom is totally a non threat to shoot the puck on the right wing half wall and that is severely hurting this unit. In addition, Mike Green is not bombing the biscuit from the point so it is really easy to defend a whole side of the Capitals power play. Those two guys have to start shooting the puck, plain and simple. I also would like to see Ovechkin taken off of the point and put on the half wall, similar to how the Penguins use Sidney Crosby. Throw Carlson or even Alzner out there so that the shots coming from the blue line are hard ones. Green and Tom Poti, when put on the point, are not cranking up the slappers and that is what you need to get the pucks bouncing off of the goalies and in position where guys like Mike Knuble, Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, and even Ovechkin skating in off of the half wall, can bang it home. The coaches keep talking about simplifying but I am not seeing it happening. Perhaps changing the personnel or moving guys around could get better results? Right now it is too predictable and thus easy to defend.
– I am not sure what happened in OT but the Caps didn’t show up and they were outshot, 5-0. Poti started the whole losing goal sequence with a bad decision, he passed the puck across the slot instead of skating it up and out the right wing boards. Then Jeff Schultz, because of the poor pass from #3, threw an off balance clear up the left wing boards that Pavel Kubina gathered in with steam in the neutral zone. Kubina kept charging and Sarge and Laich got confused on who was taking who allowing #13 to drop the puck to Vincent Lecavalier, who fired it on Varly. #1 came out to cut off the angle and gave up a rebound on the excellent shot and then both Poti and Backstrom failed to cover St. Louis as the former league MVP netted the game winner.
– Washington is now 5-0-2 in their last seven games and have only given up nine goals during that stretch. It is clear they can play this trapping system that they have recently began employing and that should help them enormously in the post season, but unless they get some offense going, which they failed to do last spring in the final three games against Montreal, then they aren’t going very far again.
Notes: The Caps will not practice on Wednesday and do not play again until Saturday night against the Florida Panthers at the Verizon Center…Scott Hannan had another strong game on defense and he seems to have settled in well with Green as his defensive partner…Wednesday night at 10 pm on HBO is the final installment of 24/7 and that should be fun to watch since the Capitals won the Winter Classic…Washington reaches the halfway point only two points behind last year’s Presidents’ Trophy winning crew, however, that team won 14 straight games in the second half of the season…Since it is the halfway point of the season, on Thursday night I will post my 4th annual mid season Capitals grades and analysis. I can tell you now that there will not be as many “A’s” as there were at this time last season, although I do think this year’s team is clearly better in some areas (primarily on defense and in goal).