After Saturday night’s thrilling 4-3 overtime victory over the Carolina Hurricanes, the Washington Capitals will take the ice on Monday night at 7 pm at the Verizon Center against the team that swept them in the second round of the playoffs last season, the Tampa Bay Lightning. Naturally, some revenge will be at the forefront of the Capitals players minds but this is a new season, and only the regular season at that, so you can only take so much from winning game two of an 82 tilt season, if the Caps do prevail.
Since training camp opened Capitals players and management have talked about their work ethic and the need to ”bring it every night,” something they have not done consistently in the past. The acquisitions of skaters Joel Ward, Jeff Halpern, Troy Brouwer, and Roman Hamrlik has certainly helped with that so this is a different Washington club than last May, when the Bolts seemed to take advantage of every Caps miscue en route to wins in four close contests. On Saturday versus the Canes the Capitals work ethic was very good but they made several mistakes in their positioning and it nearly cost them the game. Assistant coach for video, Blaine Forsythe, was likely a very busy guy after last night’s game and today going over the errors with head coach Bruce Boudreau and the players. I don’t think energy or effort will be a problem on Monday night given the opponent but the key for Washington will be to play within their system and themselves.
Tampa, who missed making the Stanley Cup Finals by a game, has many of their key players returning in Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, Eric Brewer, Victor Hedman, and Dwayne Roloson. St. Louis, Lecavalier, and Roloson, however, are really starting to get up there in age so it remains to be seen how they handle another long season. I expect #26 to pass with flying colors but I have doubts about their goaltender and team captain. One of the players who absolutely killed the Caps last spring was the speedy Sean Bergenheim, but he was a free agent this past summer and took big money to play for the Florida Panthers. Bergenheim was part of a crew of bottom six forwards who made a difference in the series against the Caps, while Washington’s third and fourth lines struggled.
Caps General Manager George McPhee has rebuilt the third and fourth lines in the offseason and much has been made of the Ward, Brooks Laich, Jason Chimera unit. That crew was very good against Carolina but if the fourth line comes out right after that unit and continually lays an egg, then any momentum Laich and company generates is wasted. For one game, the fourth line of Jay Beagle, Matt Hendricks, and Halpern held up their end of the bargain in their roughly nine minutes of time on ice together. On media day last Thursday, I had a chance to catch up with Beagle and get his take on the new fourth line and what they are looking to accomplish each game.
“Personally I’m excited to help this team win every night and create energy out there and chip in where I can. In a couple of preseason games me and Hendy and Halpy were saying as that fourth line when we need a big goal in the third, I think we can do it. It’s going to be a gritty, grindy goal and that’s the kind we’re going to have to make and produce. It’s just an exciting time and to be playing with those two guys is awesome. They’re extremely good to play with, talk a lot, and just make the game easy on you. For me personally, they always say we’re not looking for you to put in a lot of goals and a lot of points but when you can it’s a big help for the team. I want to chip in and score some goals this year. I want to make a mark on this team and be a power forward. I got to get more physical and be more physical, fight when I have to, and just try and be an all around player,” said Beagle about what could very well be his first full season in the NHL after playing the last half of 2010-11 season with the Caps.
Vokoun should make his Caps debut against the Lightning on Monday night. Michal Neuvirth was a main reason Washington was able to find a way to win on Saturday but Boudreau prefers to rotate goalies this early in the season. The 35 year old Czech is still learning the Capitals system and given how many mistakes the Caps made in their own end on Saturday night, I expect it to take time for #29 to gel with his teammates and become the dominant netminder he is expected to be. Beagle provided insight into how that transition has been going for Vokoun with his new teammates.
“It’s been really good, he’s looked great in his preseason games and in practice. Every day he’s looking stronger and with the d-core that we have, we got a vocal d-core that talks a lot. As forwards we got to take pride in talking a lot too. If you talk you make the game that much easier, especially in the d-zone if you know where everyone is and if you can share the puck and get the puck out of the zone. Tomas has been doing great, he’s a great goalie, I know even just coming down and shooting on him, [there's] not many holes on him. He’s a very strong goalie in the net and he’s only going to make our team stronger,” finished #83 on the difference Vokoun can make for Washington.
Notes: According to Caps beat writer Katie Carrera of The Washington Post, Marcus Johansson will center the second line with Alexander Semin and Troy Brouwer while Mathieu Perreault will be a healthy scratch (Monday Morning UPDATE: Carrera is now reporting Perreault is in the lineup. MJ90 status is unknown)… Caps beat writer Steve Whyno of The Washington Times reported that Semin will not be suspended for his hit at the end of regulation on Saturday…the Caps have announced that 400 tickets still remain for Monday night’s game. It appears that Washington is making a big effort to make single game tickets available each contest giving that season tickets are sold out for the season.