Alexander Ovechkin notched his 52nd and 53rd goals of the season plus he added two assists and Nicklas Backstrom had two goals and an assist as the Washington Capitals knocked off the Tampa Bay Lightning for the fifth time this season and the tenth straight time overall, 5-3, at the Verizon Center. With the win the Caps moved within two points of clinching their second straight Southeast Division title.
Tonight’s game winner was also a special one as defenseman Brian Pothier scored his first goal of the season by firing the puck at the net and it deflected off of the Lightning’s Vinnie Prospal and past goalie Mike McKenna with 15:30 to go in the game. Good things typically happen when you shoot the puck. Ovechkin’s goal into an empty net then sealed the victory with seven seconds left.
Even with the win, I still didn’t like the way the Caps played most of the night, especially in their own zone, and Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau will have plenty of mistakes on video to show his troops that will need to get corrected over the last six games of the regular season heading into the playoffs.
Here are some more notes and thoughts on this game:
Goaltending: Caps goalie Jose Theodore (33 saves) was great early on stopping several quality chances and he also thwarted Martin St. Louis on a clean breakaway in the second period. He also made some good stops down the stretch in a tie game but he just did not look comfortable in the goal this evening. Prospal’s goal to tie the game at three early in the third period was just awful. I have no idea where #60 was looking on that play. Also, he struggled with his rebounds, at times, and was very lucky that Evgeny Artyukhin cross checked John Erskine to wipe out an apparent game tying goal by Jeff Halpern. As anyone who regularly reads this blog knows I am a Theodore supporter but tonight he was not consistent at all.
Power Play: The Caps power play was really good in the first period scoring three times to make Tampa pay for taking some stupid penalties but they did not connect after that (except for a waved off goal late in the contest) and were 3 for 9 for the game. Several of the power plays looked out of sink and clearly the fact that Alex Semin was out with the flu impacted the overall chemistry. The Caps plan seemed to be to go to the net and get rebound goals and they did an okay job of that in the first period but they must do it more consistently.
Defensive Zone: I grade the Caps a D- in their own zone tonight. They routinely had defensive coverage breakdowns, did a poor job of clearing the front of the net, the forwards were weak on the boards at getting the puck out, and their were too many bad passes. If Washington plays this way in their own zone in the first round of the playoffs they will get creamed unless Theodore stands on his head. The Caps were just not smart defensively in their own zone. Also, what was Erskine doing retaliating to Artyukhin’s cross check with one of his own? #4 lost his head which cost Washington a power play and just 29 seconds later Prospal tied the game. Boneheaded plays like that can cost you playoff games.
Nylander: I thought #92 was terrible tonight. There were two times in the third period where instead of passing the puck to a wide open Ovechkin in front of the net he chose to hold onto it and the Caps didn’t even get a quality scoring chance on the shift. If the Great #8 is going to the net Nylander has to get him the puck (Backstrom does not make these kind of simple mistakes). No wonder he only has 30 points in 65 games and tonight he played 5:02 of power play time without a point. I would rather see Eric Fehr out there crashing the net instead of Nylander with his weak shot and tendency to hold onto the puck too long.
Other stats, notes, and thoughts: Brooks Laich had 3 assists and as usual crashed the net hard. The Caps outshot Tampa, 39-36. Martin St. Louis was great for the visitors with a goal and two assists. Vincent Lecavalier had some chances but I thought he floated most of the evening (perhaps he wants to go play in Montreal?). Forwards Keith Aucoin and Oscar Osala were recalled from Hershey and played tonight with Semin and Donald Brashear still out of the lineup. Jeff Schultz was the defensive scratch and based on the way most of the defenseman played tonight I don’t think Boudreau can afford to scratch him and his +13 rating again anytime soon.
The Caps are now in second place in the Eastern Conference with 99 points but the New Jersey Devils are playing in Chicago tonight (tied 2-2 midway through the 3rd period). The Devils, counting tonight’s game in Chicago, have three games in hand. Washington is now off until Wednesday, April 1 when they face the New York Islanders at the Verizon Center for the second of four straight home games. The final 3 games of the regular season are on the road. This four day break will give the Caps some time to rest and recover and more importantly, give Boudreau some extended video and practice time. Washington typically plays very well after Boudreau gets to have a few practice sessions in a row.
Final Note: I’ll be chasing a white ball in Myrtle Beach the next four days so I’ll be off the blog until Tuesday night.