Simply put, the Washington Capitals outplayed the Lightning on this night and were deserving of the victory. As has been the case in recent games for the Lightning, the opposition has produced an "A" performance - teams know that they need to be at their best when facing Tampa Bay. That trend continued tonight. Conversely, for most of the game, the Lightning were not sharp in a variety of areas.
The start of the game, however, was strong for the Bolts. They posted the first four shots and converted on an early power play. The Lightning were hungry on pucks and prevented the Caps from moving the puck up the ice fluidly.
But about five or six minutes in, momentum shifted. The Caps began winning more puck battles and the Lightning's play dipped. Specifically, the Bolts struggled to clear pucks out of their own end (and those turnovers led to extended offensive zone shifts for the Capitals). The Lightning's neutral zone coverage was extremely loose, so the Caps had plenty of room to generate speed as they attacked the Lightning's end. Several of those were odd-man rushes. And when the Lightning had the puck in the offensive zone, they gave it up quickly, so they weren't able to apply any kind of sustained pressure.
After surrendering those first four shots, the Capitals outshot the Lightning, 16-3, for the rest of the period. They had numerous chances to tie the game, but Andrei Vasilevskiy denied several Grade-A scoring chances. Eventually, the Caps broke through. With 1:24 left in the period, Alex Ovechkin finished a three-on-two rush with a perfect shot into the top of the net.
The Lightning were marginally better in the second, but the same problems plagued their game. Loose coverage, poor puck management and d-zone turnovers helped the Capitals carry play for most of the period. Washington grabbed the lead off another three-on-two rush - Devante Smith-Pelley put in a rebound of a Jay Beagle shot. As a whole, the Lightning didn't have much offensive zone time in the second, but when they did, they were able to generate some isolated chances. Philipp Grubauer made key saves on Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat to keep the Lightning off the board in the middle stanza.
In terms of puck possession, the third period was the Lightning's best. But outside of a few good looks early in the frame, they weren't able to translate that puck possession advantage into lots of scoring chances. The Caps defended hard without the puck and blocked 16 Lightning shot attempts in the third (and had 25 blocks for the game). Beagle finished the scoring with an empty-netter.
In too many areas, this Lightning performance just wasn't good enough. They are the only NHL team to not have lost consecutive games so far this season. If they hope to keep that streak going, they'll need to play a lot better on Saturday in Pittsburgh.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game:
The momentum change early in the first.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game:
- Philipp Grubauer - Capitals. 25 saves.
- Andrei Vasilevskiy - Lightning. 35 saves.
- Jay Beagle - Capitals. Goal, assist. Won 14 of 17 faceoffs.