When Alexander Semin is healthy and decides to play focused, he is as talented and skilled as anyone in the National Hockey League. On Thursday night, in the matchup of the top two teams in the Southeast Division, #28 took over the game scoring three goals and adding two assists as the Caps knocked off the Tampa Bay Lightning, 6-3, before the 69th straight sellout at the Verizon Center. Nicklas Backstrom notched four assists and Alexander Ovechkin added a goal and two assists while Michal Neuvirth shook off some early rebound problems to make 38 saves for his 10th victory of the sesason against just one loss. The win pushes the Caps to 12-4 overall and they lead the Eastern Conference by two points over the Flyers. They are also six points up on the Lightning, who have a game in hand.
Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis of Washington’s sixth straight victory, and eighth in their last nine titls:
– Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau did not start this game with Semin on the top line with Ovechkin and Backstrom, he had Mike Knuble (1 goal) up there, but after another sluggish opening stanza in which Washington could not get the puck behind the Bolts defense, the 2007-08 Jack Adams award winning bench boss switched up his personnel and tweaked the Capitals breakout pattern. Once again, another brilliant coaching move by Boudreau got the desired result.
“The [top two right wings] are interchangeable. We didn’t start with them like that but then we switched halfway through. Maybe it makes the other coach, especially when we are at home, alter their game,” started Boudreau, “[Tampa] hit three or four posts so I think we were lucky for a little bit. We had trouble adjusting to what they were doing and after the first period we made some adjustments and I thought we played a lot better in the second and third…We weren’t playing properly, we weren’t getting it in and only one man is going so it was easy for their D to get it and move it out. We changed our tactics up in the neutral zone and it worked. To make an analogy, it’s kind of like in baseball where you have trouble going through the lineup once and you are better the second time. I don’t know if we’ll get it or it will work the next time but it was pretty tough to get through their neutral zone,” finished Boudreau on what it took to get his team going.
– The Caps top players did light it up overall but they were credited with five of the 13 Capitals giveaways on the evening. Most of those were at the blue line and allowed Tampa to go in transition. Boudreau realizes that his top unit has great skill and can pull off some passes that other players just cannot, but he would prefer that those guys get the puck down low and use their size and skill where they can make the opponents pay for crowding the puck. In the third period they seemed to get the message and the key goal in the contest, Semin’s one timer off of a sweet Backstrom saucer pass from behind the net, came after Ovechkin and company cycled the biscuit in the corner and drew the Lightning defense in to that area.
“When you look at it on the replay it looked like what we talked about at the beginning of the game, [Semin] was in the right position. We wanted to take the puck from one side, because they surround the puck with four or five guys, and get it to the other side and make them run around. Evidently he knew what he was doing,” said Boudreau on Semin’s big goal with 9:14 remaining that made it 4-2.
“I think that was what was holding up back a little bit all night. They were standing pretty strong against their blue line and we were kind of turning it over there all of the time. But we were trying to make them play in their own end. It’s a 2-1 game [after two periods] and it ends 5-3 and you say it is kind of like the old Caps, you just outscore them, and turn it into a track meet,” added Knuble when asked if the game plan was to get pucks deep on Tampa.
– On Washington’s fifth goal, that sealed the victory with 4:52 remaining, the top line generated two big scoring chances by playing solid in their own end, something that can plague that line, at times. Ovechkin fought off two Bolts defenders on the left wing boards and sprung Semin for a partial breakaway. #28 went in alone on Lightning goalie Dan Ellis (20 saves in 25 shots) but as he tried to go to the back hand he lost the puck into the corner. However, Semin recovered, looked up, found Ovechkin coming late, and the Great #8 made no mistake on this shot and buried it by Ellis short side. It was a hard working goal capped off with superior skill from two top players.
– Neuvirth gave up the first goal once again and it came as a result of poor rebound control. #30 couldn’t handle Sean Bergenheim’s backhander from the right wing side and the biscuit bounced into the slot where Teddy Purcell banged it home. Neuvy would battle the puck a bit more at the beginning of this one but as the game went on he got stronger making several huge stops in the third period when Tampa was pressing. The Bolts fired 16 times on Neuvirth in that last stanza. Washington is now 9-3 when giving up the first goal, something that typically gives a club a less than 50% chance of winning that contest.
– The officiating in New York was abysmal on Tuesday and tonight it was the worst I’ve seen all season against Washington. The Caps only had one power play, and Semin tallied on it just 16 seconds in, while the Lightning had four attempts (1 for 4). There were two blatant missed calls by Chris Lee and Kevin Pollock that should have gone against Tampa in this tilt. The first came after Matt Bradley delivered a perfectly clean and legal check to Mike Lundin and Tampa right wing Adam Hall skated all of the way across the ice and dropped the gloves with #10. Bradley would win the fight but typically an instigator or an extra minor is called in that situation against the team that takes exception to the contact. Nothing was called in this case.
“I didn’t really get [an explanation], that is what I asked. I thought it was distance traveled. He traveled a long ways. I guess the thing that didn’t make it [instigating] was Brads saw him coming and was ready for it but it is because the guy traveled so far. I said I don’t care if it’s an instigator, I just thought that it was a clean hit and a good hit. The guy didn’t get hurt and whatever, that [Hall] came and started the fight. Give him the extra two or something, I thought would have been the right call, but if he didn’t see it, he didn’t see it,” said Boudreau on Hall jumping Bradley after his hit.
The second blatant infraction missed by the blind zebra pair of Lee and Pollock nearly allowed Tampa to have a chance to tie the game up in the last 10 minutes. Brooks Laich was hauled down on the right wing boards in the offensive zone but play was permitted to carry on and the Lightning rush that ensued, after Laich lost the puck, resulted in NHL league leading points man, Steven Stamkos, scoring his 14th goal of the season to make it 4-3 with 7:17 left. A loud chorus of boos rained down on Lee and Pollock after the Stamkos tally.
Notes: Semin extended his point streak to six games (7 goals, 6 assists)…with Semin (12 goals) and Ovechkin (9), the Capitals are the only team in the NHL with two nine-goal scorers. The duo has combined for eight goals and 20 points in the past five games…the Caps won the face-off battle 40-31 with Dave Steckel going 20-9 and Backstrom winning 12 of 18 draws. Tomas Fleischmann was 3-9…Tom Poti returned to the lineup and scored the Caps first goal and his first tally of the season at 2:21 of the second period. #3 logged only 16:41 of ice time so the Caps coaches were clearly trying to ease him back from his groin injury…speaking of injuries, the Caps are now 10-0 with Boyd Gordon in the lineup but #15 left after only three shifts (1:42) and Boudreau said he will miss a week…the Lightning were without top six forwards Steve Downie and Simon Gagne due to injuries plus Vincent Lecavalier fractured his right hand in the contest. He logged only 14:29 of ice time and afterwards it was announced he would miss three to four weeks, which includes a tilt against the Caps on November 26th at the Verizon Center…forward Marcus Johansson was recalled from Hershey on Wednesday but was scratched…Goalie Semyon Varlamov is down in Hershey rehabbing his groin injury and should see some work with the Bears this weekend…the Caps go to Buffalo on Saturday night before returning home to face the Thrashers at home at 5pm on Sunday…Caps radio play by play man Steve Kolbe called his 1,000th game, kudos Steve!