For the first time in nearly 26 years the Washington Capitals have a double digit win streak. Alexander Ovechkin and company fought off a third period surge from the Tampa Bay Lightning at a subdued, but once again sold out Verizon Center to capture their 10th straight and club record-tying victory, by a 3-2 margin. The Great #8 had the game winner with under seven minutes remaining and added a first period assist to run his season totals to 35 goals, 41 assists, and +35 in 47 games. Meanwhile the Caps improve to 37-12-6 (80 points) and widened their Eastern Conference lead to eight points (over New Jersey). The last time Washington won 10 games in a row was during the 1983-84 season and on Tuesday night in Beantown the Caps will try for a franchise record 11 straight victories against the Bruins.
Here are quotes, analysis, and highlights from the record tying win:
Crowd Dead: Home ice has definitely been good to the Caps this year and they are now 21-3-3 at the Phone Booth. Seven of the 10 wins on this streak have come at the often raucous Verizon Center. Today, however, was the quietest I have heard the building since early in the 2007-08 season (pre-Bruce Boudreau era). I don’t know what the deal was but the arena lacked energy. It could have been the boring style of play that the Lightning brought, it could have been the lack of first period scoring chances, or it could have been the 3pm start, who knows? One would think that just the chance to win 10 straight games would have had the fans fired up but they weren’t this afternoon. Whatever the case, the crowd that loves to “Rock the Red” typically is a huge help to Washington but it wasn’t really until the video board played “Unleash the Fury” with eight minutes left that they got into this one. Even still, the arena was at a much lower decible level than normal shortly after Ovechkin put the Caps ahead late in the third period. The head coach definitely noticed the lower decibel levels on Sunday.
“I thought the crowd was quieter than most. [Tampa] came out and all they wanted to do was check and I think they had only one or two scoring chances in the first period. It wasn’t a real up and down tempo. There were a lot of whistles and no penalties, so it was a quiet game in that respect,” said Boudreau on the lack of energy in the building.
Style of Hockey to Expect Going Forward: On Friday night the Caps had to deal with the Panthers trap and today it was an ultra conservative, defense first minded Lightning squad that the high powered Capitals had to defeat. Washington will likely face a lot of this type of play from here on out because teams are afraid of getting into a shootout with such an offensively talented club like the Caps. Boudreau spoke to his team about dealing with that going forward.
“We talked about that they are putting you to sleep and you’ve got to stay strong and this is how some teams will play that we might meet in the playoffs. They are a very defensive minded team,” added Boudreau on Tampa’s style of play.
“The first two periods it was kind of a boring game, both sides, but then in the third they started putting more pressure and they got the skill to come back from a two goal game and that is what they did tonight and they have Vinny [Lecavalier], [Steven] Stamkos, [Martin] St. Louis, all these guys that could score goals and I thought we never panicked tonight, scored the big goal at the end and just played solid D,” said Caps goalie Jose Theodore (25 saves) on the lack of flow and how is team prevailed.
“I would say they dulled the game down is the way to describe it. They didn’t want to match firepower with firepower, especially the way that our offense has been clicking so they tried to beat us another way by chipping pucks deep, keeping pucks low, falling back in the neutral zone, trying to limit our speed. I thought they did a good job of taking away our speed and our offensive chances early on then our power play gets a goal and we were able to get another one after that and just fortunate that we pulled it through at the end,” said forward Brooks Laich, who made it 2-0 Caps in the second period with his 16th tally of the season from three feet out. The goal was set up by a nice passing play between Tomas Fleischmann (2 assists) and Alexander Semin (1 assist).
“I think we are going to see that even more down the stretch here. Teams that we have been playing here are just scraping for points. So none of these teams want to get into a pond hockey game with us, they don’t want to be exchanging chances. They are clamping down and they figure the best way to beat us or get a point is to play well defensively, try to give up as least amount of chances as possible, and hang around for a point. It’s patience really, stick to the game plan, just because you don’t get one early in the game don’t get frustrated, you don’t have to go beating guys one on one on the red line. These teams are waiting for turnovers and try to have a transition game against us but it speaks to the fact that some playoff games might be like this, you are not going to score 4, 5, or 6 goals a night come playoff time so you have to be able to adjust and adapt and play in these tight games,” said center Brendan Morrison, who played the point on the first power play unit with Mike Green out of the lineup due to a three game suspension.
Sloan Excels With Green Out: Tyler Sloan (+1), who played six games in a row for the Caps before sitting out the last four tilts, was very good today in 16:30 of ice time. He drew a tripping penalty on Alex Tanguay just 5:48 into the contest and he also made a super takeaway on the ultra talented Stamkos in the second period.
“He’s a heckuva a player and he had good speed going wide but I didn’t panic, I just kept backpedaling, I knew he couldn’t cut inside on me so he kept going wide. When you are playing the right side and you’re a left shot, your stick is on that side so it is easier to poke check,” started Sloan on the steal he made against Stamkos. “No, I haven’t, he’s a pretty skilled and he can try just about anything, I just knew he had nowhere to go, he was running out of room and he as soon as he got to the point of no return I turned and pokechecked,” finished #89 when asked if he had ever seen the 2008 1st overall pick in the NHL entry draft try that move before and how he finished the play off.
Sloan enjoyed being paired with the solid Jeff Schultz for the first time since his NHL debut.
“You know what, I think the last time I played with Schultzie was my first game in the NHL in Calgary. I don’t know if we have [played together] since then. Maybe a little bit once in awhile on the PK but not a regular shift since last year. We’re the Calgary connection. Schultzie is a great player, he is easy to play with. We both make the simple play and he is pretty defensive so it allows me to jump up in the play a little bit and use my skating,” added Sloan on his day paired with #55.
I asked Boudreau if #89′s good play carried extra merit because he has been in and out of the line-up so often.
“I think if you look at it’s hard but it shouldn’t be hard, you should be prepared and ready to play. He could have been 30 games in the minors and you come up and your stuck in the lineup and be just as good as anybody on the ice. So we practice all of the time and he’s practicing. That is one aspect of your job when you are the sixth, seventh defenseman is to stay ready because if you are not ready and you get thrown in the game and you don’t do a good job than you don’t continue to stay the sixth or seventh defenseman. That is why Quintin Laing, no matter when I put him in, I know he is gonna be great because he’s ready and he knows his roll and so does Tyler and I thought Tyler played really good, by the way, I’m just saying it’s not something extraordinary that he played good, he should be playing good,” added Boudreau on Sloan.
Goaltending Battle: Theodore was hurt on Long Island this past Tuesday night and Michal Neuvirth stepped in to keep the winning streak alive. Neuvirth’s reward, with #60 healthy again, was a trip to Hershey to try and get in five games with the Bears so he can play in the AHL during the upcoming Olympic break. Theo picked up where he left off before the minor hip injury with a solid peformance. The players are aware of how well the goalies have been playing.
“It is nice to have a couple of guys that you can throw in there. That is a cursed blessing because you have a couple of goalies that are playing well right now but there is only one of them that can play each game so I think it is a good competition. They are pushing each other to play better in net and for us, as players, there is nothing better than playing in front of hot goalies,” added #21 on the excellent goaltending Washington has been receiving during the winning streak.
Face-off Domination Aids Win Again: The Caps once again won the face-off battle, 31-23, but I hadn’t seen today’s ending before. With goalie Mike Smith (28 saves) pulled for an extra attacker the Bolts pressured late and forced several face-offs in Washington’s end. Dave Steckel (5-6 on the day) is the Caps number one man from the dot and he won a draw with 10 seconds left. Tom Poti, who had a solid outing on Sunday, iced the puck taking the game clock down to 2.4 seconds. That set up one final draw for the Lightning to try and tie it. Tampa, as I pointed out to John Keeley (On Frozen Blog) who was sitting next to me in the press box, had been cheating on face-offs all evening by leaning in early. Lecavalier must have assumed he could do it again for this final draw but it all blew up in his face and he was given a penalty for pushing it too far with the officials. Boudreau explained what he saw from his vantage point on the bench.
“Obviously they kicked him out and he didn’t want to get kicked out and he had a few choice words for the linesman. I think they were going to let it go but he just persisted and persisted and that is when they gave him the penalty. I think the referee was just protecting his linesman from getting abused and once that happens and the face-off is down the other end it takes all of their chance of winning the game or tying it up away,” said the 2007-08 NHL Coach of the Year on how the game finished.
“Usually if you are cheating they will give you a warning, if you cheat again they will throw you out, that is kind of the protocol and they might give some leniency to guys that have been around a little longer than that. That is the general rule of thumb. They’ll let you encroach a bit but if you are totally crossing the line then they’ll throw you out,” said Morrison on how draws are usually monitored in a given contest.
Why Are the Caps Winning So Often?: This Caps squad has a lot of talent, no doubt, but in the last month things have really gelled and Washington has become a real dominant team. The club is healthy up front for pretty much the first time all season and the line combinations have been stable over the course of the last 11 games so those are contributing factors. But it is more than just health and set lines, according to Laich and the vetern center, Morrison.
“I think we are starting to learn. I think our team is starting to mature and you’ve seen that in this streak. I thought the game we played in Pittsburgh when we were tied going into the third and then we got up two goals in the third I thought we really sufficated them. We took control of the game and we didn’t get into a run and gun, risky hockey game. We are being more disciplined, not giving up so many power play chances, so I think we are starting to mature and I think that is why you are starting to see a winning streak build up there,” said Laich, who stressed before the season that Washington must learn to stick to their system if they want to win a Stanley Cup, like Pittsburgh did last June.
“We aren’t thinking about 11 or 12, it’s all about the process. If we come in and take care of things night in and night out, things will take care of themselves,” finished Morrsion on why the Caps have been able to win 10 games in a row.