After a disastrous stretch of eight straight losses, the Hershey Bears sit dead last in the Atlantic Division and are in serious danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2013-14.
It's not hard to figure out what the problem is. In those eight losses, Hershey has been held to only 12 total goals for a paltry 1.5 goals per game. You are not going to very much at that rate.
The Bears played three games in the past week and many of the Caps' top prospects were limited on the score sheet. Nathan Walker and Tyler Graovac each had only one goal, Travis Boyd and Connor Hobbs had only one assist and Riley Barber was held to zero points.
This is a troubling sign for a Hershey team that is about to lose its top scorer in Chris Bourque to the Olympics. That is a serious blow to an offense that is already sputtering.
By the time Bourque returns, one has to wonder if the Bears will already be in a hole too deep to climb out of.
Tyler Lewington dropped the gloves with Garrett Wilson of the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins late in Hershey's 4-0 loss on Jan. 24. You don't get to see too many fights like this in the NHL anymore.
As bad as things have been in Hershey, one has to wonder if perhaps they would consider recalling Tim McGauley or Hampus Gustafsson from the ECHL. Both players had very good weeks with the South Carolina Stingrays as McGauley scored three goals and Gustafsson tallied two goals and two assists. McGauley has no career games in the AHL, but Gustafsson was only recently reassigned to South Carolina by the Bears after playing in 14 games in the AHL.
Providence senior Brian Pinho has been named one of the 74 nominees for college hockey's highest honor, the Hobey Baker Award. Fans can vote on the nominees here. He may have a long way to go before he gets to that point, but Pinho would join some pretty exclusive company if he should win the Hobey Baker. The last four players to win the award were Will Butcher, Jimmy Vesey, Jack Eichel and Johnny Gaudreau.
Garrett Pilon was named the Third Star in Everett's win Monday over Seattle. He had one assist in that game. Pilon totaled five assists in his team's three games over the past week.
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.
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.
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 at the 2:30 mark of 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.