Not so fast, Tampa Bay Lightning, on claiming that Southeast Division title just yet. Your daddy, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau, just came to town and his club laid another rear-end whipping on you by a 5-2 count, behind a four point night from Alexander Ovechkin (1 goal, 3 assists, +3). Nicklas Backstrom also had four points (2 goals, 2 assists, +3) and Semyon Varlamov (23 saves) recovered from allowing a bad goal on the first shot he faced to get the victory as Washington pulled within three points of the first place Bolts. The Caps are now 3-1-1 against Tampa this year and Boudreau is 18-3-1 against them since taking over as the Capitals bench boss on Thanksgiving in 2007.
Below are the highlights and analysis from a Caps game that the NHL Network’s Billy Jaffe afterwards called “One of the most complete games they’ve had in a while.”:
- We’ll get to the Ovechkin/Backstrom show in a minute but this night, that started ominously with Washington outshooting the Bolts 10-1 but had the Caps trailing 1-0, turned around thanks to a Dale Hunter like move and performance from Matt Hendricks. Tampa goalie Dwayne Roloson had owned the Capitals in his first two games against them as a Bolt keeping them off of the scoreboard for all 125 minutes played. But #26 changed that by running into the Lightning goaltender at the 8:21 mark and the 41 year old goalie snapped by punching Hendricks with his blocker numerous times to set up a 4 on 4 situation. Actually, according to the rulebook Roloson should have been given a major and kicked out for attempt to injure (h/t Caps VP @nateewell) but it turned out to be good he stayed in because he lost his focus after the altercation. Just 48 seconds later Roloson had trouble with a Mike Green shot and Backstrom put in the rebound as he and the Great #8 were crashing the net. That goal knocked the Roloson monkey off of the Caps backs. Hendricks also held his own in a fight with Tampa’s top pscyho and chief punk, Steve Downie, at the 10:39 mark.
- Now on to the 8 and 19 show. The Capitals top line, which featured Jason Chimera (1 empty net goal, 1 assist) back on the 1st unit, abused a very slow and methodical Lightning defense all game. Chimera’s speed was a huge difference and both the Great #8 and Backstrom were as focused as I’ve seen them in months. That line continuously cyclced the puck well and generated pressure and scoring chances. Ovechkin also scored his first power play goal since October (he scored two in Calgary) and it came from the half wall, a position I have been calling for him to play more of on the PP, with Mike Knuble doing a super Tomas Holmstrom like screening job in front of the Tampa net. #22 was battling with the talented yet slow Victor Hedman and it rattled Roloson. That marker made it 3-1 Caps less than two minutes after the Capitals took the lead for the first time. Then after Tampa scored on the PP late in period two to make it 3-2, Ovie would set up Backstrom’s second tally of the night with just under eight minutes left in regulation. Alexander the Great took a Chimera feed and fired the biscuit on net and then crashed it for the rebound. When all three Bolts, including Roloson, went to Ovechkin, #19 skated down the slot all alone and fired the biscuit into a vacated cage. The final tally for that line came with the empty net and Ovechkin unselfishly fed Chimera for a wide open goal that closed out the scoring. Simply put, if Ovechkin and Backstrom play like that on a consistent basis, this team is very hard to beat.
- While the top line was sensational, there was a lot of good work from the supporting cast. In particular, Boudreau received a strong performance from his second line and the second Washington goal was a thing of beauty. All three Caps forwards, Mathieu Perreault, Jay Beagle, and Brooks Laich were working hard on the left wing boards and #83 managed to get the puck in the left wing circle to #85 who made a gorgeous pass to #21 in the slot. Laich then made an even prettier backhanded shot upstairs past Roloson that gave the Capitals their first lead of the game 6:38 into period two and it was one they would never relinquish. #85 only logged 12:53 of ice time but it was of the high energy variety, something he has to bring every night if he is going to stay in the NHL.
- Steven Stamkos, who is leading the NHL in points, was hardly noticeable thanks to an outstanding defensive job by the John Carlson (1 assist in a team leading 26:49 of ice time) and Karl Alzner (19:40 of ice time) duo. Both were +2 on the night and they held Stamkos (0 points, -2) to just one shot on net in this tilt! #74 and #27 are only 21 and 22 years old, respectively, yet they are routinely called on by Boudreau to match up against the opponents top line and they are getting the job done.
- Washington, who won despite two of their top three right wings, Alexander Semin and Eric Fehr, still out of the lineup, played a very smart game. They routinely got the puck deep in the Tampa zone and abused a subpar Lightning defense. In addition, with the Bolts playing a 1-3-1 neutral zone configuration, the Caps blue liners were patient and did a good job of not forcing passes. Guy Boucher’s club prefers to sit back and counter attack against the Caps but Boudreau’s crew did not allow the Bolts to have much success with that plan on Friday night. Simply put, Boudreau outcoached the rookie NHL bench boss on this night.
- Varlamov was super solid after giving up the first goal to Teddy Purcell (1 goal, 1 assist) from a bad angle just 3:21 into the contest. There were a few flurries against #1 in the first period and during the second but he stayed calm in net and didn’t give up any quality rebounds. Credit the defense for protecting the front of the cage as well and the whole team deserves kudos for being mentally strong and not letting the bad first goal get them down.
Notes: The Caps outshot Tampa, 36-25 in an excellent 60 minute effort…Washington also buried the Bolts in the face-off dot going 41-27. Marcus Johansson (10:53) and Jay Beagle (1 assist in 11:44 of time) were both 7-1 while NHL leading draw man Dave Steckel went 6-1…Matt Bradley fought Adam Hall in period one after the Hendricks-Downie bout…Ovechkin had four hits, including a good one in the opening frame against cheap shot and skate away artist, Mattias Ohlund…Tampa’s Brett Clark deflected a Purcell shot on the PP past Varlamov to end a Washington string of 27 straight penalty kills in the second period…both teams went 1 for 4 with the man advantage…the Caps are now 11-3-2 when Ovechkin scores a point on the road…next up for the Caps are the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Verizon Center on Sunday at 1230pm on NBC. Both Sidney Crosby (concussion) and Evgeni Malkin (knee) are expected to miss the game for the Pens…the Hershey Bears, who lost goalie Dany Sabourin for 2 to 3 months due to a knee injury, knocked off the Albany Devils, 5-3, in Atlantic City on Friday night. Brian Willsie had two goals and Todd Ford, on recall from the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL, made 21 saves (h/t to my main man John Walton from the Bears for the info on this victory).