SCOAR! (Photo credit: Chris O’Meara)
There was a zeitgeist surrounding the Washington Capitals’ visit to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s playground. The words we kept hearing were “must win,” which is great motivator even if it’s not objectively true. Still, the Caps seemed to take it to heart, bringing an effort to the game that reminds us– above all else– of the ’09-’10 version of the team. Not bad.
Red-hot Teddy Purcell scored on Tampa Bay’s first shot of the night, a 40-foot slapper to Varlamov’s weak side. On a 4v4 sequence that we’ll discuss later, Nicky Backstrom used some stick-to-it-iveness to even the score from the crease. Brooks Laich (!) piled on with a wizardly backhand top-shelfer set up by Mathieu Perreault. Alex Ovechkin put the visitors up 3-1 with his long-delayed return to the PPG stat column. Tampa’s Brett Clark kept the second period busy with a retaliatory powerplay tally. The third period found Nick Backstrom cleaning up an Ovechkin crash for his second of the night, and Jason Chimera recording an empty-netter. Caps beat Bolts 5-2. Wings, MFers.
- The Capitals were ever-so-slightly outchanced by the Lightning 15-14, but the young guns Backstrom, Ovechkin, and Green were present for 10 of them.
- Bruce Boudreau‘s persona in those silly commercials belies his tactical savvy. With scouting reports describing a Bolts crew that clogs up the neutral zone but somewhat passive on the offensive-zone forecheck, Boudreau had his blueliners scoot past the blue line and blast the puck into enemy ice, skipping over the kinda-trap completely. The maneuver didn’t work reliably, but it goes to show that our BBBB has a top-tier brain for puck strategy.
- Octogenarian goalie Dwayne Roloson has shut the Capitals out twice this season. The early moments of this game looked like it may follow in that pattern until Matt Hendricks gave him the old how’s yer mother. Crowding Rolo in the crease and then falling on him, Dwayne popped Hendy a few times, earning matching minors for both teams. Some 30 seconds later, Ovie finally broke the seal on the Tampa Bay dam.
- And Alex Ovechkin had a brilliant night. Architect of four Capitals goals and agent of one, he easily could have had a hat trick. His hits on Mattias Ohlund set the tone for the night early: white-knuckle, balls-to-the-wall, pull-your-ass-outta-yer-heads, and have-some-bleeping-fun-out-there hockey. In other words, the Great 8 crashed the dang net and led the darn team. Who would have thought that Ovie would turn the slump around? Oh yeah.
- Matt Bradley fought. No blood.
- The Capitals’ sterling defense, particularly Carlzner (yes, I’ve come to accept the term), were not their best selves tonight. John Carlson and Karl Alzner found only one scoring chance for and five against, but at least they limited the Stamkos line to three even-strength chances.
- Semyon Varlamov allowed a goal on the first shot of the night, and– I’ll admit– I panicked. But Varly proved me wrong utterly, shutting down Tampa on 23 of 24 subsequent shots. The Caps have essentially erected (heh!) a wall at the 2 GAA threshold. It’ll take a Cain Marko of a team to break it down, and I have a feeling that’ll be a thrilling game when it comes. No rush though.
- Faceoff liability Marcus Johansson won 7 of 8, so I’ll just shut up about that for a while.
- On the other end of the ice, did Dwayne Roloson coat his pads in flubber or something? Rebound fiesta.
- Nicky Backstrom and Brooks Laich both got on the board tonight, each placing bold strides in the direction of righting their wayward seasons. No matter how far our heroes may drift, let’s keep in mind that we’re only one game away from a chance for redemption.
What’s the best possible way to kick off your weekend? Right after eating Chipotle for dinner and watching Point Break on DVD, it has to be watching the Caps execute OPERATION: SCOAR MORE GOALS all over the Lightning. TBL vs. WSH is quickly becoming one of the best rivalries on the Capitals’ list, and that might not be a bad thing after all. The newly robust Southeast Conference really will make the Capitals a better team, and the Lightning are the best of the bunch. The Caps are still working out some problems internally, but games like this are exactly what they need to slough off their indifference.
On Super Bowl Sunday, Washington will entertain the Penguins. I’ll be there in person to document the goings-on and harass the other bloggers. Have a great weekend, everyone. CRASH THE NET.
Additional reporting by Neil Greenberg.