Last night the Caps rebounded from a three-goal deficit, gaining momentum as the game went on and forcing overtime before ultimately falling to the Panthers. Falling into a similar hole against the Lightning, there was no such come-from-behind magic lurking tonight, as the Caps looked flat from the start and never generated anything that looked remotely close to sustained offensive pressure.
And that, combined with a powerless power play, a few defensive miscues and Dwayne Roloson in net, led the Caps to their second straight loss and the sixth time they failed to score this season.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Semyon Varlamov was one of the few bright spots in this one, doing what the Caps' young goaltenders have gotten back into the habit of doing - making the big save at the right time. He turned aside 35 Tampa shots, including a number from right on top of the crease, with a flashy glove save thrown in here and there for good measure. On a night when the team looked less than impressive, the fact that Varlamov was impressive (and then some) deserves mention.
- There wasn't much Varlamov could have done when the Lightning opened up the scoring early in the first; the same can't be said for Tom Poti, who let Dominic Moore skate around the net virtually untouched en route to the night's first tally. He followed that up with a weak attempt to poke the puck away from Simon Gagne later in the first, a turnover that resulted in the puck landing square on Gagne's stick and led to a prime scoring chance for the Bolts.
- And that would be it for #3, who would skate just 49 seconds in the second period before leaving the game. Injured again? Or injured still? The former would be frustrating, the latter a little scary considering Poti's trying to return from a concussion. Stay tuned...
- Moving on down the defensive depth chart, just some stellar work by Jeff Schultz and Mike Green that led to Gagne's breakaway goal late in the second. You know, if stellar is Sanskrit for "really crappy".
- Steve Downie is such a brave man, going after Scott Hannan - he of the six career fights - like he did. Big, brave man. Of course it's slightly puzzling how absorbing punches to the face led to an extra minor penalty for Hannan, but Downie's bravery shouldn't be downplayed.
- You can talk about Roloson being in the Caps' collective heads, and perhaps there's some truth to it. But they're never going to beat him if they don't get traffic in front of him - even with ancient eyes, Roloson's going to stop what he can see and he was seeing the shots. More importantly, he was seeing only one at a time, as too many times the Caps were one and done, whether it was at even strength or on the power play. And 23 shots on goal (including just 5 in the final frame) won't cut it against most goalies, let alone ones who have your number.
- Of course part of the problem was the fact that the Caps could barely get into the offensive zone, let alone establish any sort of presence there. Every time the puck got carried over the line it got chipped back out again, or it was shot wide and ricocheted out. When the goals aren't coming you have to get back to basics - dump...and chase. That second part is kind of crucial.
- The penalty kill was back up to snuff (largely thanks to the heroics of Varlamov) but it got far too much work for comfort - especially against a lethal power play team like Tampa. And the roughing penalty taken by Brooks Laich in the second period certainly won't win him any points with the coaching staff.
- Want proof that this year is not like other years for Alex Ovechkin? He's about to get hit with a breakaway pass...and the puck stops dead. Momentum halted, chance squandered. We've seen that play a hundred times before, and more often than not the puck ends up in the back of the net. The captain's struggles continue...
- ...as do those of his Swedish linemate. There were a few times tonight where Nicklas Backstrom had the puck and a Tampa defender merely poked it away, relieving him of the puck and moving play in the opposite directions. They were small moments in the game, for sure, and none that directly led to a Tampa goal, but they were moments that still stood out because they're so uncharacteristic from someone who is usually so slippery and strong with the puck. We haven't seen the old Nick for awhile now, might be nice if he checked in.
A lack of effort, a lack of focus, a lack of energy...there was a distinct lack of something out there tonight. As a result, the better team - the team that wanted it more - get the win and the Caps are forced to leave two points and the Southeast Division title back in Tampa.
Let's hope they have an extra supply of effort, focus and energy back in DC - their schedule's about to pick up even more, and they'll need all the help they can get.