The Washington Capitals in a 36-shot performance found five of those shots in the back of the net, as the Caps defeat the formidable Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2.
The Capitals have been shutout five times by Southeast Division teams this season, and the last time the Caps played the Tampa Bay Lightning, they were completely shutdown for offense, losing 3-0. Washington was able to end that lack of offense by getting top-producers Alex Ovechkin his 20th goal of the season on the power play, two from Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Laich’s 10th lamp-lighter. It did not hurt to get a solidifying empty netter from Jason Chimera.
Another achievement from tonight’s Capitals win included the team’s ability to score in all three periods of the game. The Caps had not scored in more than one period in four out of the last seven games prior to tonight (they did not score at all against the Thrashers, losing 1-0 on January 26th). The Caps have not scored in all three periods since the 5-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils, which was also the last time the Capitals scored over three goals, with the exception of Ovechkin’s empty net goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The 36 shots including a 17-shot first period might have helped with the scoring.
Not only was this game an offense benchmark for the team, but Washington had succeeded defensively as well. Many have been impressed with the Caps’ ability to hold teams down in scoring, and that’s thanks in part to the goaltending of Semyon Varlamov (who, after tonight’s game, has a .920% save percentage), Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth. However, the Caps have not done a good job of keeping shots down and efficiently clearing the puck out their zone. Well, that was done tonight, as the Caps held a highly-potent Tampa offense to 25 shots.
The Caps needed this win badly, as they are about to embark on a tough road schedule after Sunday’s match against the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are only one point behind the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Flyers, despite missing Sidney Crosby (concussion) and Evgeni Malkin again after injuring his knee (update: Malkin injured his MCL and ACL) during tonight’s game with the Buffalo Sabres. Washington will host the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings, and then travel out West for a five game-eight-day roadtrip before ending that with the Penguins again in Pittsburgh.
Fortunately for the Capitals, they have not fallen too far out of favor in the Eastern Conference, as they are now three points behind the Lightning for the division lead, which has Tampa currently in second place ahead of the Boston Bruins. With a few more games like this, the Capitals could silence the questions of prob
lems with the team’s offense and throw away doubt about their defensive talent. In other words, if the enigma that is the Washington Capitals can find some consistency, which the Caps have yet to achieve this season.
Notes: Alex Semin is still out with a groin injury. He has not played since January 8th. Even though the Capitals havesigned Semin to a $6.7 million one-year extension, one can’t help to think if they will trade Semin. The contract is movable, and with his potential, Semin could be a nice fit for a team in the playoff race. However, Semin not playing does provide issue for that, and it is tough to want to argue for Semin’s current value with the Capitals. This issue will be examined further once he begins playing.
Semin update: Head coach Bruce Boudreau said Semin should be back by next week.