Craig Laughlin called the Caps “Relentless” after Tuesday night’s 5-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
That choice of words was extremely accurate as the Capitals routinely swarmed the puck and pinned a very good Bolts team in their own end on numerous occasions en route to a huge win on the road.
My take on that victory: It was the best game the Caps have played in about four years, considering the opponent.
Washington played Coach Barry Trotz’ system effectively, limiting turnovers and odd man rushes while playing fast and physical. It was an exciting game to watch and a style, that if the Caps can continue to master, will push them back up towards the elite teams in the league.
They also overcame a nine minute stretch in the second period where they had to kill off three straight minor penalties, two of which were very questionable calls. That’s six minutes of shorthanded time against one of the best pure goal scorers in the league in Steven Stamkos, yet the Caps PK unit was marvelous and goaltender Braden Holtby (33 saves) was outstanding.
This win gives the Caps a three for three road trip and Holtby was a staggering 3-0 with a 1.67 goals against average and a .950 save percentage.
Another key to the Capitals great road trip: fast starts.
Alex Ovechkin (two goals) scored in the first minute of this one by crashing the net with Tom Wilson (1 assist) and the Caps seemed to feed off of that early success. In the first 10 minutes Washington could’ve been up at least two or three pucks but Ben Bishop (30 saves) was strong early before finally being overwhelmed by the Caps offensive attack. The Caps are now 12-1-1 when notching the first tally.
What I also really liked about this game was the Capitals did not make the extra pass just inside the offensive blue line, instead getting pucks and bodies towards the cage. The first, third, and fourth Washington goals were all about net presence and not over passing. Troy Brouwer’s game winner was a sweet shot off of an excellent feed by Marcus Johansson (two assists), but Evgeny Kuznetsov made the play at both ends by chipping the puck out in a perfect spot for MoJo and then driving to the net to free up a lane for Brouwer to roof one past Bishop. If Kuznetsov can continue to improve along with Brooks Laich staying healthy, then the entire forward lineup becomes more balanced for Washington.
So the Caps are red hot as they come home to face the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night before playing the Bolts on Saturday. Home ice has been an issue for the Capitals this year. It will be up to them to find a way to come out fast, like they’ve done on the road this week, and get the Verizon Center crowd into the game early.
Notes: Washington is now 13-10-4 (30 points), good for 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division…Brooks Orpik led the Capitals in ice time with 26:25. Trotz has been relying on #44 heavily during this recent run and his strong defensive play is paying off. Sure Stamkos beat him on the second goal, but overall, opponents are paying a much steeper price in the Washington end and it wears the other club out, eventually…the Caps won the face off battle, 27-22. Nicklas Backstrom (2 assists) was 10-5 while Kuznetsov was 0-4…Mike Green did not make the trip to Tampa but reportedly is close to a return to the lineup for Washington, they need him back.
EVENT NOTE: Nestor Aparacio and I will be interviewing Coach Barry Trotz on Wednesday night at the Buffalo Wild Wings in Belair, MD. Come on out and show your love of the Caps and also support the fight against cancer. We’ll be swabbing people to help build the pool of potential bone marrow transplant donors.