Vitek Vanecek was brilliant in net, but the Capitals still fell 2-1 in overtime to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday. The Caps failed to score on an overtime power play and Steven Stamkos netted the game-winner with just 15 seconds remaining.
Here are some observations from the loss.
Vitek Vanecek steals the show and almost the win
The Capitals returned their goalie tandem of Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov this season and Samsonov was expected to come into the season as the No. 1. Instead, Vanecek got the start in each of the first two games and he was absolutely brilliant on Saturday with 22 saves. In a goalie duel facing one of the best goalies in the world in Andrei Vasilevskiy, Vanecek nearly got the win and helped the Caps to at least a point.
While the score may have been tight, it was not a particularly great performance by Washington's defense. The Lightning dominated the net-front and was credited with 12 high-danger chances through regulation, but Vanecek was up to the task.
He stretched the right pad to deny a redirect tap by Victor Hedman, he swallowed up a one-timer from Nikita Kucherov and he managed to hold the goal line even when facing Corey Perry alone in front and getting pushed into the net.
Vanecek helped the team last season when Samsonov was out with COVID-19, but really his play wasn't great. He was just good enough. That has not been the case in the first two games. He looks like a goalie who is really gaining confidence and starting to excel. He is giving up fewer rebounds and controlling the ones he does give up. He is not just making the saves he is supposed to, he is now stealing goals from opponents with some great saves.
Now Peter Laviolette will be faced with the difficult decision of who to play Tuesday against Colorado. You have to get Samsonov a start, but do you take Vanecek out right now given how well he is playing?
Alex Ovechkin stays hot
How do you break through in a goalie duel? With arguably the best goal-scorer of all time.
In the second period, Ovechkin got some room in the high slot and managed to beat Vasilevskiy through the 5-hole for his third goal of the season. Incredibly, Ovechkin nearly scored again just 14 seconds later as a shot hit off the post and off of Vasileskiy's back and trickled to the goal line. Vasilevskiy covered the puck with his glove just before it could cross the line. It was called a goal on the ice but reversed after a review.
At 36 years old, Ovechkin has already shown that he still remains one of the most lethal goal-scorers in the league.
Fehervary is a great compliment for Carlson
Fehervary had only six games of NHL experience coming into the season and it was not exactly clear what the team could expect from him. Laviolette paired him with John Carlson and, though it may be a small sample size, they look great together.
Fehervary's style seems to compliment Carlson really well. While Laviolette has told the media he wants his players to play the same game, some players obviously have different strengths. Carlson is a good, offensive puck-mover, while Fehervary is more defensive with good closing speed and decent physicality.
Thus far, the role has not seemed too big for Fehervary -- minus a third-period turnover right in front of Vanecek to Perry -- and he really pairs well with Carlson. That's not a combo that Laviolette should fiddle with.
Oshie and Sprong switch
In the second period, T.J. Oshie moved up to the second line with Daniel Sprong moving down to the third.
For a player like Sprong, his strength is offense. If he is not generating chances or points, his contribution on the ice is really limited. Sprong was very quiet in the first game and to start on Saturday. Will we see Laviolette shake up some lines going forward as a result?
Ovechkin is masking some power play issues
Washington went 0-for-4 on the power play on Saturday. Ovechkin had three great scoring opportunities but was denied by Vasilevskiy twice and hit the outside of the net in overtime. Make no mistake, however, those two chances by Ovechkin were not the product of a power play that was running on all cylinders, but rather masked some of the issues the unit was having in the game. It's not a stretch to say the power play cost Washington the game in an overtime loss where one goal could have easily changed the outcome, especially considering one of those power plays came in overtime.
Zone entry was the major obstacle on Saturday as the Caps just could not get the puck cleanly into the offensive zone. Either they dumped the puck and lost the ensuing foot race or they tried the drop pass and ran it too slowly allowing the defense to swarm the puck carrier as soon as he entered the zone.
When you have a player like Ovechkin, you can still generate a handful of scoring opportunities, but that should not mask the struggles the power play had. It has to be better than it was in this game.