For the first 40 minutes on Saturday night against Tampa Bay, the Caps played as good as they've played all season. They kept the league's third-ranked offensive attack bottled up at 5-on-5 and managed to keep its third-ranked power play in check, too.
Video: Orlov, Holtby lead Capitals past Lightning, 3-1
The Caps limited the Lightning to a mere nine shots on net at even strength through the game's first two periods, and four of those came during an eight-second fusillade late in the middle period. Braden Holtby expertly handled those shots, all from in tight, and he was superb during Tampa Bay's seven power play opportunities.
On the night, the only shot to get behind Holtby was a Nikita Kucherov shot from the right hash marks, a chance that came via a broken play, tying the game at 1-1 at the exact midpoint of the third.
Washington generated a slew of strong scoring chances of its own early in the game, particularly on the power play, but it missed the net on all of them. The Caps gained a 1-0 lead early in the second when ex-Lightning defenseman Radko Gudas slipped a center point shot through traffic and behind Bolts goaltender Curtis McElhinney, and Washington nursed that advantage all the way up until Kucherov's tying tally.
Less than a minute after the Bolts pulled even, the Caps fell into some penalty woes. Tampa Bay had a two-man advantage for a full 86 seconds, and five of the seven Lightning power play chances came in the back half of the contest. But even playing on the second night of back-to-backs against a rested Tampa Bay team, and going up against the Lightning's heralded power play, Washington's penalty killing outfit and Holtby combined to get the job done.
Less than a minute after they snuffed out the Lightning's 5-on-3, the Caps regained the lead for good on a Dmitry Orlov left point blast. Nic Dowd's shorthanded empty netter provided additional breathing room, and the Bolts headed back to Florida emptyhanded.
"I liked our game tonight through two periods," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "I thought we - for the most part - really minimized chances, and in particular, high danger ones. We gave up a few on mistakes we made, but for back-to-back game, I thought we did a pretty darned good job with our structure, something that we talked about and emphasized with those few days we had of practice."
On Dec. 22 of last season, the Caps finished a sweep of a third straight set of back-to-back games with a 4-0 win over the Senators in Ottawa. That victory completed the Caps sweep of three straight sets of back-to-back games, the first time they managed that achievement in more than 27 years.
It only took 364 days for Washington to engineer another sweep of three straight sets of back-to-backs.
Video: Postgame | December 21
Double Barrel - Over the first 35 games of the 2019-20 season, the Caps never had a game in which two different defensemen scored. But in each of their wins this weekend, two different defensemen scored, and blueliners netted the game-winning strikes in both contests as well.
John Carlson and Jonas Siegenthaler scored on Friday in New Jersey, with Carlson's goal standing up as the game-winner. Gudas and Orlov scored on Saturday, with Orlov's goal becoming his second game-winner in two home games against the Lightning this season.
Back on Black Friday (Nov. 29), Orlov scored in overtime to complete a Caps comeback from a 3-1 third-period deficit in a 4-3 win over Tampa Bay.
Saturday Night Special - Coming off a 3-0 loss on Monday in Columbus, Holtby was on the beam in Saturday's game against the Lightning. He dealt with long periods of relative inactivity and had to make eight saves while Tampa Bay was on the power play and 13 of his 26 stops came in the third period.
With the win, Holtby improves to 17-4-4 on the season, and he has not gone two starts without helping the Caps to a point in more than two months now. Since the Caps' current group of six defensemen began playing together with Michal Kempny's return from injured reserve on Oct. 18, Holtby is 16-3-2 with a 2.45 GAA and a .922 save pct.
In five Saturday night starts this season, Holtby is 3-0-2 with a 1.72 GAA and a .937 save pct. Over the course of his NHL career, Holtby is 62-21-13 with 10 shutouts, a 2.26 GAA and a .923 save pct. in 98 Saturday night outings (97 starts).
Video: Reirden Postgame | December 21
Only Daddy That'll Walk The Line - Gudas' goal came with his dad Leo in attendance. It was his first goal in a Caps sweater and it came against the team that drafted him and gave him his start in the NHL.
Gudas' father was a defenseman who had a lengthy playing career in a number of European countries during the 1990s, and young Radko was along for the ride, picking up a number of different languages and getting to see and experience living in a number of different countries as a boy.
Last week in Tampa, Gudas talked about his European hockey upbringing and seeing some familiar things with his own brood, now that he has three kids of his own.
"I didn't realize when I was a kid," says Gudas, "but the older I get the more I feel of how special it was for us being able to travel from season to season to different places, being together as a family and just being with him in different parts of the world in different years. I don't think I appreciated it as much when I was younger. But as I get older, I see more and more as I have my own kids. It's really fun to see what I was probably doing - and what my kids are doing now - when my dad came home.
"It was one of those things that you didn't realize at that point when it's happening. But once you take the time, I really do appreciate everything he did for us and the things that we were able to do because of him."
Last week, Leo Gudas, a 1990 draft choice of the Calgary Flames, got to tag along on the road and watch his son play a couple of games while seeing how the NHL operates behind the scenes. He stuck around the DC area to spend some extra time with his son and grandkids, and was able to see Radko score his first goal as a Capital on Saturday night.
"Yeah, a hundred percent," responds Gudas, when asked if the goal was more special with his dad in attendance. "I'm going to have a beer with him tonight for sure."
Down On The Farm - The AHL Hershey Bears earned a 2-1 overtime victory over the Springfield Thunderbirds on Saturday night at Giant Center.
After a scoreless first, Matt Moulson netted his ninth of the season at 13:28 of the second with help from Martin Fehervary and Liam O'Brien, staking Hershey to a 1-0 lead. The T-Birds tied it on a power play late in the second, and a scoreless third forced overtime.
At 4:03 of the extra session, Bears winger Alex Jonsson-Fjallby won it with his seventh goal of the season, Brett Leason and Tyler Lewington assisting.
Vitek Vanecek made 27 saves in the Hershey nets to improve to 9-4-1 on the season.
The 15-9-2-3 Bears have won seven straight games, and they currently occupy third place in the AHL's Atlantic Division, six points back of co-leaders Hartford and Providence. The Bears are back in action on Sunday afternoon when they face-off in a rematch against Springfield at Giant Center.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays earned a 4-3 road win over the Jacksonville Icemen on Saturday, claiming another clean sweep Saturday night for the Washington organization.
Tim Harrison had a natural hat trick for the Stingrays, who overcame an early 2-0 deficit to win. Dan DeSalvo scored the deciding goal with 1:04 left in regulation, making a winner of Logan Thompson (28 saves), who improves to 9-2-1-0 on the season.
The 21-2-3 Stingrays own the league's best record, and they are back in action on Thursday when they face the Gladiators in Atlanta.
By The Numbers - Carlson led the Caps with 25:21 in ice time … Carl Hagelin led Washington with 6:29 in shorthanded ice time, and Siegenthaler led the defensemen with 5:53 when the Caps were on the penalty kill … Alex Ovechkin led the Caps with five shots on net and eight shot attempts … Garnet Hathaway led the Caps with three hits … Carlson and Siegenthaler each blocked three shots to lead Washington … T.J. Oshie won five of seven draws (71 percent).