Saturday, January 23, 2010
By Joe Beninati
Wow! That was an exceptional week of hockey. The Caps showed me something very special this evening. Any club would have been set up perfectly for a letdown after disposing of their arch rival 48 hours ago. After producing wins over Philly, Detroit and Pittsburgh, the home team had enough left in the tank to hold off a hard-working Phoenix team.
Let's give credit to the Coyotes before we heap praise on the Capitals. For a team saddled with so many off-ice distractions concerning their ownership, Dave Tippett's team sure doesn't let it affect them on the ice. They work their tails off, they're well-coached, they have an imposing netminder, and they received a pair of goals from Lauri Korpiskoski, but they still came up short. The main reason why is named Alex Semin. He has been blessed with an insane arsenal of skills, and when he puts his mind to it, he can dominate a game like few others. He had the puck on a string all night long. When it was all done, he factored in on all 4 DC goals, scoring one of them with his patented wrist-shot from close range.
The Washington power play received a work out this evening, and as usual they helped deliver in the clutch. Two more power play goals from the number one ranked unit in the NHL put the home team ahead. For a while, it appeared as if Phoenix forward Vernon Fiddler would ruin those extra man opportunities all by himself. Michael Neuvirth robbed him on a short-handed breakaway in the first period. The young Cap's goalie looked very secure late in regulation when the Coyotes were buzzing around the crease. The defense was stable in front of Neuvirth, only looking scrambly a couple times.
The word of the day for the Capitals was patience. They knew the Coyotes were going to be bunched up tight defensively. Washington did not fall into the Phoenix trap. They kept their poise and remained patient, and that type of safe performance earned them a win. Great to see Eric Fehr and Brooks Laich convert on the power play. Nice to see John Erskine back on the blue line. This club is the talk of the NHL right now, and it's thrilling for all of us at Comcast SportsNet to be part of it. See you Tuesday on CSN Plus from Long Island.
After a rough start, the Caps battled back to make a game of it against Tampa Bay, but ultimately fell 4-2 to the Lightning. Here's why.
The first period
To put it simply, this game was lost in the opening period. Washington was the better team for the second and third but they could not overcome the 3-0 lead they spotted the Lightning in the first. Beyond the goals, the Caps just did not play well. Even the simplest of plays looked difficult as Washington struggled to get the puck out of their own zone, gave up numerous turnovers and scoring chances and just looked overmatched. Braden Holtby also looked shaky allowing three goals on just eight shots. Usually he is able to cover up some of the mistakes the defense makes it front of him, but he was not there to bail the team out on Tuesday in what was a really rocky start.
RELATED: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS FROM CAPS-LIGHTNING
Taking a penalty 34 seconds into the game
Entering Tuesday’s game, Tampa Bay boasted the second best power play unit in the league. Playing a disciplined game is part of every game plan, but that is especially true against such a dominant unit. Giving up a penalty just 34 seconds into the game was not an ideal start. The call itself was debatable. Brett Connolly was called for interference when he knocked over Dan Girardi in the offensive zone. The puck was just behind Girardi as he had lost control of it in his skates. The sticking point here is that Girardi no longer had possession and Connolly could have played the puck instead of the player. Most referees would probably let that go with the puck so close, but Connolly was not so lucky. Whether it was a good call or not, the Caps found themselves down a man and down a goal soon after as Brayden Point scored the power play tally.
A missed opportunity from Kuznetsov on one end, a goal for Nikita Kucherov on the other
Even after spotting the Lightning a 3-0 lead, the Caps made a game of it. Lars Eller struck on the power play in the second period and Alex Ovechkin pulled Washington to within one with about nine minutes left to play. Just over a minute later, Evgeny Kuznetsov stole the puck away from Nikita Kucherov, the frontrunner for league MVP this season, at the Tampa blue line giving the Caps a short 2-on-1. Defenseman Andrej Sustr was textbook on the play forcing Kuznetsov as far wide as he could go while still covering the passing lane and Kuznetsov elected to shoot from the faceoff dot rather than attempt the pass to T.J. Oshie.Andrei Vasilevskiy made a routine blocker save to deny what looked like a great opportunity to tie the game. As always happens in hockey, a failed opportunity on one end led to an opportunity in the other direction. Less than a minute later, Kucherov made up for his mistake by scoring a breakaway goal to put the game out of reach at 4-2.
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The first 20 minutes of Tuesday's game did not go well for Washington. The Tampa Bay Lightning scored three times in the opening frame and rode that lead all the way to the 4-2 win.
With the game heading towards a repeat of their blowout loss to Chicago, the Capitals rebounded in the second period to make a game of it as Lars Eller scored on a power play. Alex Ovechkin pulled Washington within one in the third period, but Nikita Kucherov slammed the door shut with a breakaway goal to extend the lead back to 2.
Here are the three stars of the game:
1. Brayden Point: Tampa Bay won this game in the first period when they took a 3-0 lead. Point scored two of those three goals. His first came only 2:30 into the game. He retreated to the blue line on the power play believing Jay Beagle would clear the puck. When Beagle turned the puck over, he recognized it and immediately crashed the net, taking a Ryan Callahan pass in the slot and shooting it through the five-hole of Braden Holtby.
On his second goal, Anton Stralman saw an opportunity on the Caps’ line change and passed the puck up to Point at the blue line. Point turned on the jets to get behind the defense and went five-hole again on Holtby to make the score 3-0.
2. Alex Ovechkin: After the first period, Washington slowly took this game over for much of the remaining 40 minutes. Ovechkin was a big part of that as he totaled an incredible 19 shot attempts for the game. Nine of those shots were on goal and he found the back of the net in the third period for career goal No. 594.
3. Tom Wilson: Through the first period, the Caps looked well on their way to a repeat of the 7-1 debacle they suffered Saturday in Chicago. They had nothing going in this game until Wilson drew a trip from Vladislav Namestnikov in the second period. Eller would score on the resulting power play giving Washington some much-needed life.
The Namestnikov penalty was the 29th drawn penalty of the season for Wilson, which moves him into a tie with Matthew Tkachuk for the most drawn penalties in the NHL.