WASHINGTON — Darcy Kuemper faced the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday for the first time since helping the Colorado Avalanche beat them in the Stanley Cup Finals last season and proved to still be just as much of a challenge as the Capitals ran away with a 5-1 victory.
With former Conn Smythe Trophy winner Andrei Vasilevskiy in net for Tampa Bay, the Capitals became just the second team on the young season to score at least four goals against him. Anthony Mantha, Sonny Milano, Aliaksei Protas and Conor Sheary all scored for Washington, which was playing without head coach Peter Laviolette due to COVID protocol.
The Capitals got their biggest spark from the penalty kill unit, which turned away all three of the Lightnings’ power-play chances including one that followed a five-minute match penalty.
Here are three takeaways from the Capitals’ win over the Lightning.
Kuemper’s bounceback night
Coming off a poor outing in Wednesday’s 4-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Kuemper didn’t get much time to wallow in his defeat as Washington sent him right back out to face the three-time defending Eastern Conference champions in the front end of a home-and-home series.
He put the tough night behind him, dominating the Lightning from start to finish with 28 of 29 keep Tampa Bay’s prolific offense at bat. The Lightning generated plenty of strong chances, but Kuemper had an answer every time even when Nikita Kucherov got a clean breakaway early in the first period.
Perhaps most impressive was Kuemper facing nine minutes of penalty kill time and still holding the visitors to a lone goal. Tampa Bay got off nine shots with the man advantage including five high-danger chances), according to Natural Stat Trick. Kuemper stopped them all.
In nearly putting together his second shutout since joining the Capitals, Kuemper moved to 5-6-1 on the season with a .920 save percentage and 2.27 GAA.
Aube-Kubel ejected for open-ice hit
The second period was an eventful one Wednesday night. With the Capitals leading 1-0, winger Nicolas Aube-Kubel delivered an open-ice hit to unsuspecting Lightning defenseman Cal Foote. Aube-Kubel caught Foote in the face with his shoulder and he went down bloody.
Referees initiated a video review and assessed Aube-Kubel a match penalty for an illegal check to the head, ejecting him from the game. All match penalties are automatically reviewed by the NHL Department of Player Safety. Foote went straight to the locker room and was ruled out from returning after the period.
However, the Capitals rallied to kill the five-minute penalty and even pushed the puck into the offensive zone enough for winger Sonny Milano, who was sitting out for Aube-Kubel, to get a breakaway out of the box on a pass by defenseman John Carlson for an easy score.
The goal was Milano’s first with the Capitals and the assist marked Carlson’s 600th point of his NHL career.
Strong passing key to offensive explosion
The Capitals were outshot 29-24 in the game but created good chances with some impressive passes. Center Lars Eller got the scoring going with a no-look spinning pass across the slot that set up a layup for Anthony Mantha.
Later in the game, the Capitals were up 3-0 when Milano made an excellent clearing pass to Mantha, who fed Conor Sheary perfectly for him to get a clear shot at Vasilevskiy from the low slot.
All five of the Capitals’ goals came on even strength, a good sign for the team considering how much they’ve leaned on the power play early on this season.
With the win, they gained two points to pull even with the Philadelphia Flyers for fifth in the Metropolitan Division standings. They’ll face the Lightning again on Sunday at Amalie Arena.