Whatever happened in Saturday’s game, one team was going to walk away feeling confident and talking about sending a message while the other would be left saying it was just one game. The Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning have met three times in 15 days with Tampa Bay winning the first two. Either the Lightning were going to sweep the season series or the Caps would win the last matchup for the final exclamation point.
No team knows better than the Caps that what happens in the regular season does not necessarily carry over into the playoffs, but just the way they were able to control Tampa Bay on Saturday makes you wonder if perhaps Washington could have injected a little bit of doubt into the minds of the Lightning.
The Caps dominated Tampa Bay in a way that few teams have this season. The Lightning are the top team in the NHL by far and have already clinched the top spot in the division, the conference and the league. In fact, the Presidents’ Trophy was awarded to Tampa Bay prior to Saturday’s game. That was about as good as things got, however, as the Caps dominated from the drop of the puck to the final horn. They looked bigger, faster and better than the top team in the league and it felt like they were reminding both the Lighting and the rest of the league that they are still the defending champions and the road to the Cup still runs through Washington.
Considering Tampa Bay lost to the Caps last season, you have to wonder if this loss will leave more than just a bad taste in their mouth. Will they be able to simply dismiss it and move on or when every team is starting to look ahead to the postseason, did the Caps plant a tiny seed of doubt into the minds of the Lightning?
Here are a few recent observations and thoughts on the Caps:
- Remember when Alex Ovechkin scored 33 goals in 2016-17 and we thought his days as a 50-goal scorer were over? I am done predicting that. One day, age will catch up with him as it does for everyone, but he is superhuman and clearly it is going to take longer to catch up with him than anyone expected. Let’s just enjoy the ride.
- Carl Hagelin has been such a great pick up. Everyone knew he was a good penalty killer and brought speed, but he is so much more than that. He makes an impact just about every time he is on the ice. One shift in particular stood out to me on Saturday. He carried the puck into the offensive zone by himself as the Caps were on a line change. He got caught in a board battle with Victor Hedman, one of the top defensemen in the league, won the puck and passed it back to the blue line. That started an offensive cycle that resulted in T.J. Oshie’s first goal. It would have been easy for Hagelin to dump it in or lose the puck to a top-notch defenseman, but he did not take the easy way out and he never gave up on a play that looked dead at the start. He won the puck back and kept the offensive play alive. He is a great player and someone the Caps should really try to re-sign in the offseason.
- The key to fixing the power play is to shoot more. Washington’s power play works when opposing teams have to account for all five weapons they employ on the ice and not just Ovechkin. Lately has been to get the puck to Ovechkin which has led to teams covering him more and more. Ovechkin from the office just has not been there of late because everyone is cheating to him and getting in his shooting lane or the passing lane between him and John Carlson. On Saturday, Tampa Bay started covering Ovechkin closely giving Carlson a lane on net so he fired the puck towards the goal and T.J. Oshie deflected it in. If the other four players shoot more, that will result in more opportunities for Ovechkin. No one should take this advice more than Nicklas Backstrom.
- Braden Holtby is probably not going to get much love for the Vezina this year and people are not going to be talking much about him heading into the playoffs. The last few games, however, he is playing as well as any goalie in the league. He is going to be a force to be reckoned with once the postseason starts.
- When figuring out just what to do with the defense heading into the playoffs, I think you can take playing Nick Jensen on his off-side off the table. The goal Carolina Hurricanes forward Warren Foegele scored Thursday against Jensen pretty much sealed the deal. Sometimes players can give up big plays, it happens, but it was the way that it happened that caught my eye. Jensen was caught on the left and looked completely lost on how to defend. He held his stick out in front of him with both hands swinging wildly then reached with his arm and not the body when Foeegle was turning the corner on him. Jensen clearly is not comfortable on his left and it showed. There are three games left in the regular season before the playoffs, now is not the time to force a round peg into a square hole.
There is just one more week remaining in the regular season. Find out where the Caps stand compared to the other team in the league here in this week’s NHL Power Rankings.
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