Through two games of the regular season, the Washington Capitals are playing what I will call Clint Eastwood hockey: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly! I’ll get to more on that in a minute but thanks to Tomas Vokoun’s superb overtime and shootout goaltending combined with gimmick tallies by Matt Hendricks and Alexander Semin, the Caps are 2-0 after a 6-5 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning at sold out Verizon Center on Monday evening. Instead of the young guns, it was the grinders who got it done for the Capitals on this night as Jason Chimera scored twice and he now has three goals in two games. Dennis Wideman, Troy Brouwer, and Marcus Johansson also tallied for Washington while Tampa got goals from five different players, none of which had the last name of Stamkos, St. Louis, or Lecavalier.
Wow, that was one crazy hockey game and one that both coaches likely would call a nightmare to be involved in. The Caps only allowed 23 Tampa shots in 65 minutes and for the most part played well defensively but their goalie gave up some really bad goals, three of which were shot from below the goal line. Vokoun (18 saves) was really shaky and struggling to properly hug his post in regulation and the Bolts took the charity en route to a 5-4 late third period lead. But then Tampa made another terrible turnover in their own end and that allowed Chimera to rifle one by Dwayne Roloson (33 saves) with Mike Knuble screening on the door step with 2:44 to go and that paved the way for the Washington triumph.
Here are the quotes and analysis from this second straight Southeast Division win for Washington:
- During the peak of the Caps losing streak last December, Coach Bruce Boudreau basically called out the mental toughness of his club. Through two games, he has to be pleased with how far his team has come in that department. In each of the first two contests Washington has had moments where they’ve just dominated play and had nothing to show for it. Then to compound those situations, they have given up a goal via a bad bounce or mental mistake. But so far the club has answered the bell and recovered instead of slumping then eventually losing in those instances. Tonight his goalie didn’t allow a terrible first 60 minutes to prevent him from showing how good he can be in overtime and in the shootout to get a win. In addition, instead of his skaters shrugging their shoulders and saying “Our goalie doesn’t have it today, it’s not our night boys,” they just kept working hard to try and get the win. Of everything that has happened in these first two games, perhaps that mental toughness is the most telling part of the 125 minutes of hockey in this campaign.
“If you asked Tomas (Vokoun), he’ll be the first one to tell you that’s probably not the way he wrote the script. I guess if you’re trying to look at the big picture, it takes a guy with a lot of mental toughness to play like that. And then in the overtime when you’re having four-on-three against you and you make those three or four huge saves. I got to believe if it was me, I would have been so mentally out of it… and he comes up and he makes those big saves and he makes the save in the shootout. It told me a lot about his character and it ends up as a positive thing even if he didn’t have a positive game for the most part,” added Boudreau on what stood out for him with Vokoun on Monday.
- Tampa’s 3rd and 4th lines really helped the Bolts win last spring’s playoff series against the Caps but Washington’s bottom six forwards, if you will, came through tonight. The Brooks Laich, Joel Ward, and Chimera line once again carried the play when they were on the ice and Mathieu Perreault, Hendricks, and Jeff Halpern were a big positive as the fourth forward unit. When the young guns fail to score, and the Washington top line was atrocious on Columbus Day, the Caps rarely win but that was not the case tonight.
“[We’re] just three guys working hard. We all really take pride in going against their number one line and playing really good defense. And mostly when you play good defense, it leads to good offense,” said Chimera, who was the game’s number one star.
- As bad as Vokoun was in the first 60 minutes he at least redeemed himself in the extra portion of this contest. It would have been nice if Alexander Ovechkin could say that as well but the Gr8 was downright awful in this one. He made mental mistakes and worse yet he had an atrocious shift in the third period after coming out of the penalty box that led to the Bolts fifth goal. Ovechkin had a chance to generate some offense on that shift but basically just gave the puck up in the Bolts zone allowing Tampa to come the other way and create the pressure that led to the go ahead goal. Ovechkin does not want to watch the videotape of that shift because it will show his total lack of effort in both the offensive and defensive zones. In addition, he and Mike Green didn’t think on a 5 on 3 and allowed Pavel Kubina to get a shorthanded breakaway when he came out of the box in the second period. Overall Alexander the Great was -2 with just three shots on goal in 21:47 of ice time. What makes this performance even more disconcerting is the team captain opted out of the morning skate. Unacceptable move and performance from the guy who is supposed to lead the team.
- Marcus Johansson was a major positive after being scratched on Saturday for the opener. MJ90 looked like he was shot out of a cannon on most shifts and he used his speed to create scoring chances and draw penalties. The young Swede worked hard and showed that he is physically stronger on his skates than last season when he was pushed around, at times, below the goal line. Johansson had a goal and an assist and really played well with Semin and Brouwer. On Brouwer’s goal he took a Ryan Malone stick in the mouth but he still played over 15 minutes and was +1. The only downside for Marcus in this one was his 3-10 faceoff total. His play was inspired, something Boudreau definitely liked and took note of.
“That’s absolutely what you’re looking for. Here’s a guy that sat out a game, he came out, he just said, ‘I’ll show them’ and that’s the kind of attitude you’re hoping for,” commented Boudreau on how the sophomore Swede performed against Tampa.
- Special teams is something that every coach focuses on. After Saturday’s poor PK performance, the Caps were better on Monday and they had to be because they took two stupid too many men on the ice infractions. Washington’s shorthanded unit came up large, especially in the OT thanks to Vokoun, and forced the Bolts to go 0-4 in 5:20 overall of man advantage time. Now for the ugly of the ugliest on the night: the Capitals power play! It was just pathetic and reverted mostly to the mode of last season where the Caps would pass the puck around the perimeter to try and get one-timers. There was not enough of passing it to the point for slappers with traffic and net crashing for rebound goals. Too much young guns out there tonight, if you ask me, especially when Ovechkin and Green were on the points. I’d like to see more of John Carlson, Wideman, and Roman Hamrlik on the blue line with guys like Brouwer, Knuble, and Laich screening in front. It is not a hard concept and I hope the coaches hold the young guns accountable and sit them for a few power plays to show them how it should be done. Washington was a putrid 0-7 in 9:14 of power play time. They were so bad that they took themselves off of three power plays with their own penalties. Again, this is unacceptable!
- I railed on Ovechkin’s play tonight and Green (0 pts, -1) and Nicklas Backstrom (0 pts, -2) both had poor nights as well. But did anyone see Vinny Lecavalier or Steven Stamkos tonight? What about Steve Downie? Malone, other than his stick infraction to the face of MJ90? Nope, those guys all stunk in this one as well. As for Guy Boucher’s 1-3-1 system, the Caps pretty much hammered it tonight as Washington effectively used their speed to go around orange looking pylons on the Bolts defense named Kubina and Eric Brewer. My gut tells me teams will figure that system out quickly this year after having a summer to digest it on video.
- At the end of the day, the Caps are 2-0. When they play their system and think on the ice, they have shown they can be dominant. Mentally this club looks to be a lot stronger, at least through two games, but they need to clean a lot of things up going forward. Fortunately there are 80 more tilts to hone their game before the post season.
Notes: Tampa won the faceoff battle 34-32…Brouwer led the Caps and all Bolts with seven hits…Chimera had seven shots on goal, most of any player in the contest…Jay Beagle and DJ King were the forward scratches…next up for the Caps are the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night from the Steel City at 7 pm.