As bad as the Caps have been on the road this season (with no turn-around in sight), it's critically important that they keep winning the vast majority of their home games if they want to make the post-season. One game (and one win) into a four-game homestand that sees them face the three bottom teams in the Eastern Conference over the next three, the Caps hosted the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday night, looking to stay on a roll at Verizon Center, where they'd gone 7-1-0 over the last eight games. And, thanks to a quick start, they did exactly that, holding on (barely) to beat the Bolts by a 4-3 score.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Home ice (for all of its literal shortcomings) has been great to the Caps' power-play, which entered the night second in the League in home conversion rate. Less than six minutes into the game, they'd already moved back into first in that metric after making the Bolts pay for a couple of unwise penalties. And credit goes to Troy Brouwer on both - for screening Dwayne Roloson on an Alex Ovechkin shot from in between the top of the two circles on the first goal, and then beating Roloson from in tight on the second. (All-Star Dennis Wideman picked up secondary assists on both tallies. Also, Alexander Semin's celly on the Brouwer goal was sweet.)
- On the penalty-kill, the Caps have also enjoyed a home-ice advantage, entering the night second in the League in efficiency there as well, having gone 26-for-26 since Dale Hunter took over behind the bench. They ran that streak to 30-for-30, but on Tampa's fifth extra-man chance of the night, that streak came to an end late in the third.
- Maybe the Bolts can blame their slow start on having played last night and facing a better-rested Caps team. Or maybe they just weren't ready to play from the opening draw... like they haven't been ready on many nights this season - no team has given up more first-period goals than the Lightning.
- Even though he's had his ups and downs over the first half of the season, Tomas Vokoun has been quite good at The Phone Booth, running his home line for the season to 13-3-0/2.093/.923. And if you toss out that first game and win of the season against these same Bolts, Vokoun's numbers jump to 1.90/.931.
- Continuing the theme, Brouwer picked up a second goal by cashing in on a Brooks Laich rebound, giving him 10 home tallies of his 13 goals overall. As for that goal, Brouwer from Laich and Mike Knuble... is anyone surprised that it was a rebound from just a few feet out, and as a result of strong play along the boards? Oh, and then there was his empty-net hat trick goal... pushing it to 11 of 14 at home. Congrats to Troy Brouwer on an incredible game (that included seven hits).
- Ovechkin's game-opening goal gave him seven power-play goals on the year, the same number he had in all of 2010-11. So there's that.
- Ostensibly and understandably, the Caps shifted to a more defensive posture once they grabbed the 3-0 lead. But to go 18 minutes without a shot on goal is taking things a bit far, especially when the opposition is piling up the shots and scoring chances. The Caps hung on for dear life in this one.
Karl Alzner dropped the gloves - no, that's not a typo - with Steve Downie in the middle of the second period and held his own. That was Alzner's first fight since juniors (where he fought all of three times)... and Downie's 34th in the NHL. Was that fight (video here) something to which the Caps needed to respond in kind (i.e. a tougher guy going after skill)? Whether it was or not, it never happened.
- If Knuble wants more ice time, he's going to have to be better than he was on the
TaylorTom Pyatt goal, where he had his pocket picked clean deep in his offensive zone by Marty St. Louis. Gaffes like that turn doghouse residents from renters into owners (ask Jeff Schultz).
- Not that he deserves to go to the All-Star Game, but it'd have been great to see Jason Chimera selected solely so he could participate in the fastest skater competition. His jets were on display a few times, including beating out an icing and later taking an indirect pass off the boards and turning it into a scoring chance. Speed to burn.
There's no real mystery to what the Caps need to do over the second-half of the season in order to play on beyond early April. At a bare minimum, that includes winning home games and beating the teams they "should" beat. On Friday night against Tampa, they did both. They'll look to continue the trend against the 'Canes on Sunday and the Isles on Tuesday... before heading back on the all-too-unkind road.