The Washington Capitals power play has been generating a lot of chances in recent games, but had failed to cash in on numerous scoring opportunities. That all changed on Friday evening at the Verizon Center as the Caps man advantage caught fire going three for four allowing Washington to build a 4-0 in just over 45 minutes of hockey. From there the Capitals would go on to a 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning, the 2014-15 Eastern Conference Champions.
As I blogged on Wednesday night, I expected the Capitals to be pumped up and focused for this contest and they were just that. Through 40 minutes they outshot the Bolts, 31-14, including 18 in the opening period, and thanks to two late second period tallies they opened up a 3-0 advantage. Seriously, it could’ve been five or six to nothing if not for the stellar goaltending of Andrei Vasilevskiy (33 saves), who kept his club hanging around until the dam finally broke in the last two minutes of that middle stanza.
Alex Ovechkin (12th), Jason Chimera (6th), and T.J. Oshie (6th) notched power play goals for the Caps and Marcus Johansson (4th) had the only even strength marker on a John Carlson (two assists) pass that banked off of his skate and into the cage. Good things happen when you go to the net. Evgeny Kuznetsov had another fabulous tilt with two assists, including a brilliant feed to Chimera for the second goal that really seemed to deflate Tampa. Chimera himself had a super assist on the Caps opening tally spotting the Gr8 open in the slot with the man advantage and Ovi buried it far post, top shelf at 7:09 of the opening period. That’s now four games in a row where the Caps have scored first, after nine straight yielding the game’s first marker, and they’ve won every single one of those contests.
Braden Holtby was strong in net, especially down the stretch when the Lightning put 17 of their 20 third period shots on the Holtbeast after it was 4-0. Holtby made a huge stop on Steven Stamkos with the Bolts on the power play and the game 4-2 late in the third period. Overall, Braden stopped 32 shots and improved to 14-4 on the season. He has now tied his career high winning streak at six games.
For nearly 50 minutes, this was arguably the best Washington has played all season. Every line was contributing and Andre Burakovsky, despite no points, had one of his better efforts carrying the biscuit and battling on the boards when he was on the ice with Chimera and Jay Beagle.
The Caps kept a speedy Bolts team at bay with constant puck pressure and when Washington had possession, they supported the play well making it hard for Tampa to get their excellent transition game going. Coach Barry Trotz had to be extremely pleased with the way his club dominated the Lightning until late in the third period.
With the win, the Capitals improve to 16-5-1 (33 points) and trail the Metropolitan Division leading New York Rangers by just a single point, since New York lost to Boston on Friday afternoon. The Caps have a game in hand. Both teams are in action on Saturday with the Rags hosting the Flyers in the afternoon while Washington travels to face the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on Hockey Night in Canada at 7 pm. Earlier this month, the Leafs gave the Caps all they could handle at the Verizon Center and it took Nicklas Backstrom’s goal with one second left to tie the game and then Ovechkin’s goal in the shootout to earn a victory. Mike Babcock’s club did not play on Friday so they will be rested for the Capitals. I’d expect Philipp Grubauer to get the call in net for Washington.
Notes: Ovechkin logged 23:00 of ice time and had 11 shot attempts (6 SOG) and five hits…Oshie’s goal was a brilliant top shelf marker on the rush to make it 4-0, but he also led the Caps in hits with eight. One of those was a bone crushing smash of Victor Hedman on the back boards…the Caps outshot attempted Tampa 62-56, but most of the Bolts damage came after the game was over at 4-0…Washington won the face off battle, 41-33. Kuznetsov went 10-4…the Caps lost the first game of this five game home stand to Dallas, but then knocked off Colorado, Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Tampa in succession to go 4-1. They are now 10-3-1 at the Verizon Center this season…This was Coach Trotz’ 1,300th NHL game. Only nine other coaches in NHL history have reached that milestone. Kudos Trotzy!