The scoreboard will show the Washington Capitals won again at home, 4-3, to run their record at the Verizon Center to 16-5-1 this season but I am pretty sure that coach Dale Hunter won’t be very pleased about his team’s performance over the last 30 minutes. The Caps raced out to a 3-0 lead in this one buoyed by two first period power play goals but they let their foot off of the gas and Tampa Bay nearly tied it up in the waning seconds. Troy Brouwer notched a hat trick when he hit the empty net with 59 ticks left, but the Bolts scored with 10 seconds remaining with the goalie pulled and narrowly missed the game tyer at the buzzer.
This game started so nicely for the Caps as they dominated a Lightning team that played the night before by winning nearly every battle to the loose pucks. Washington received the first three power plays as a result and made Bolts coach Guy Boucher’s club pay. At the midpoint of the game, the Capitals were still carrying the play but then at the 12:42 mark of period two Karl Alzner decided to get in a fight with Tampa’s chief punk, Steve Downie. It was a terrible move by 27 and after that the game was mostly Tampa. It was Alzner’s first NHL fight (he had three in the Western Hockey League playing Juniors, h/t @JapersRink) and he couldn’t have picked a worse time because he gave the Bolts life. I am sure that Hunter will have a chat with the young defensemen about his decision after the contest. The Capitals do need to get tougher with opposing players who routinely take liberties against them, but that was not the time to do that. I’m sure Alzner will learn.
Still, when you are playing a team that has lost five straight and has horrible goaltending you can not let your foot off of the gas regardless of one altercation. Every other Capitals player had a chance to pick his play up but didn’t for the next 20 minutes. What transpired was the Caps made a mistake behind their own net (Mike Knuble) and the Bolts cut it to 3-1 heading into the final frame.
At that point, given that the Bolts had to be tired, the opening minutes and beyond of the third period should’ve been all Caps, like they were against the Pens on Wednesday, but a Tampa squad that has talent up front fought back. The Capitals failed to get pucks on net against an aging and poorly peforming netminder. They also were a bit unlucky on their fourth power play as Alexander Semin hit two posts in about 10 seconds. Still, good squads find ways to bury opponents when they are down and Washington couldn’t do that tonight.
Tomas Vokoun (29 saves) received his eighth straight start and was solid in net. #29 made some quality saves before Steven Stamkos practically single handedly brought his team back. Good goaltending goes a long way in the NHL and that was the difference in the game on Friday night.
At the end of the day, a win is a win is a win, but the Capitals need to find a way to take the life from the opposition when they get a lead if they want to move back into the NHL’s elite. On Friday they showed that they still can’t do that yet.
Notes: Brooks Laich and Dennis Wideman had two assists…Wideman led the Caps in ice time but instead of keeping the puck in the corner in the dying seconds he made an error and tried to fire it up the boards giving Tampa a remote chance to tie it up. #6 has to be smarter in his own end…Tampa was 1 for 5 with the man advantage and the Caps were 2 for 4. Washington needs to stay out of the box. They had a too many men on the ice penalty and a delay of game infraction. Those types of penalties are unnecessary…the Caps only had 12 shots on net the last 40 minutes, one of which was Brouwer’s empty net, that won’t allow a club to close out a game they should win easily…Nicklas Backstrom is still out due to injury (head injury) and may not return until after the All Star break…Washington’s win coupled with the Panthers loss to the Penguins puts the Capitals just two points behind Florida in the Southeast Division race. The Caps have a game in hand too…next up for the Caps are the Carolina Hurricanes at 5 pm on Sunday at the Verizon Center.