Ever since Alex Ovechkin entered the NHL in 2005, the Washington Capitals have been known as a dangerous offensive team. Now, with Barry Trotz as head coach, they have improved their defensive game. For example, their shots allowed per game number, which ranked 27th out of 30 teams last year, was third-best entering Saturday’s game against the Lightning.
But the Caps are still a dangerous team, as the Lightning saw first-hand in this game. At points, Washington’s play with the puck in the offensive zone was frighteningly good. But thanks to some well-executed plays and an outstanding performance from Ben Bishop, the Lightning were able to scratch out their third straight win.
The first period ended up being fairly evenly-played, but it was far from quiet. At different moments in the opening 20 minutes, both teams carried play. After withstanding an early surge from the Caps, the Lightning grabbed momentum and put five consecutive shots on Braden Holtby. The fifth shot went in, when, from the center point, Brian Boyle put a puck onto Ryan Callahan’s stick at the side of the net. Callahan redirected it through Holtby’s pads. The Lightning nearly extended the lead during a power play later in the frame, but Holtby made several key point blank stops. Then, shortly after the power play ended, the Lightning yielded a chance to Alex Ovechkin off the rush. The rebound of his shot led to a goal for Marcus Johansson, which tied the score at one. That tally sparked the visitors, who forechecked the Lightning effectively in the Tampa Bay end over the closing minutes of the first.
In the second period, the Lightning scored two goals and also hit a post, but those plays were the extent of the highlights. For much of the rest of the period, the Caps were putting pressure on the Lightning. Tampa Bay repeatedly failed to clear pucks from the defensive zone. When the Bolts did clear, they couldn’t execute passes to move the puck into the offensive zone. As a result, the Lightning spent plenty of time without the puck. The Caps fired 13 second period shots on Bishop, scoring twice, but they could have had more. During an early second period power play, the Caps forced Bishop to make four difficult saves. Bishop was not able to bail out the Lightning on the Caps’ second PP chance, however, which accounted for Washington’s third goal.
The Bolts did score those two second period goals themselves, however, and those tallies helped them get out of the period tied at 3-3. Both goals came from the Tyler Johnson-Ondrej Palat-Nikita Kucherov line, which was the one Lightning line able to apply sustained pressure on the Caps during the period. On Ondrej Palat’s goal, which tied the score at 2-2, Kucherov fooled Holtby when he faked a move from behind the net to one side, then passed to Palat at the other post. Then, Kucherov gave the Bolts a short-lived 3-2 lead when he tipped Eric Brewer’s point shot past Holtby. Tampa Bay had only six second period shots – and four of them came from the Johnson line.
But as they did two nights ago against the Flyers, the Lightning rebounded with a much cleaner final period. They took a 4-3 lead early in the frame, when Jason Garrison wristed a point shot past Holtby. Up until the late stages of the period, the Lightning managed the puck much better in their own end and moved the puck effectively through the neutral zone. Washington’s scoring chances were kept to a minimum. The final three minutes were another story, though. The Caps made a final push to tie the game and that’s when Bishop produced three remarkable stops (one on Nicklas Backstrom and two on Ovechkin). He also made a tough save on a John Carlson point shot. After the Caps pulled Holtby for an extra attacker, Bishop received some help from J.T. Brown, who blocked another Ovechkin attempt. As a result, the Bolts were able to bank two more points.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Bishop’s key saves at the end of the game, preserving the 4-3 lead.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Nikita Kucherov – Lightning. Goal and assist.
2.Ben Bishop – Lightning. 35 saves to earn win.
3.Eric Brewer – Lightning. Assist. Solid defensive game.