Putting up back-to-back wins against the Florida Panthers - one a dominant 5-0 drubbing, the other a come-from-behind overtime squeaker - has steered the conversation toward whether the Caps have finally turned a corner. But they needed a real test to determine whether this was the case, and tonight offered them that opportunity.
For long stretches of tonight's game, the answer to that question was a resounding "yes". There were still hiccups and areas of concern, but they got timely offense, strong special teams work and a little butt-saving from their goalie - and when the final horn sounded, they got the win, as well.
Ten more notes on the game:
- It would be the Caps striking first in this one, doing what they've been doing so well lately - cashing in with the extra man. Especially nice work by Mathieu Perreault to fill the shifty, diminutive French Canadian role on the power play as Mike Ribeiro had just come off the ice. The puck movement and flow were largely due to him darting around the offensive zone wreaking havoc, and it was Perreault who would find Troy Brouwer alone in the slot with the quick pass for the goal.
- That early goal jump-started a good six minutes of Caps dominance, forcing turnovers in the neutral zone and putting six shots on Mathieu Garon (four of which came after the goal) before Tampa registered their first of the game about six minutes in. They also did a good job of quashing any attempt at offense by Tampa...
- ...that is until a strange combination of bad bounces around the net, lazy defense (particularly by Alex Ovechkin) and Martin St. Louis’ mere existence led to Tampa’s first of the night. Braden Holtby overplayed the puck, Ovechkin seemed lost and the Lightning were able to take advantage, squeezing the puck in next to the crossbar to knot the game up at one.
- Speaking of the mighty mite, he’s got four goals so far this year - and three of them have come against the Caps. Of course that’s nothing new for a guy who has absolutely feasted on Washington over the course of his career; that was career goal #25 and points #72 and 73 in game #70 for St. Louis vs. the Caps.
- The lead would be recaptured early in the second and it unsurprisingly came from the suddenly superb third line. Joel Ward started the play with good pressure behind the Tampa net, then bounced the puck out front where both Perreault and Eric Fehr were converging, Perreault might have been thinking of potting one himself but it was Fehr who connected and roofed it over Mathieu Garon. A slightly broken play, sure, but when it works you take it (and pretend you drew it up that way).
- For the most part the Caps looked very strong in the offensive zone, controlling play when they had the puck while minimizing time and space for Tampa in order to force turnovers when the Bolts had the puck. But at times it was a little too frantic and sloppy in their own end, with Holtby bailing them out many times after breakdowns and confusion in front. As he did on the first Tampa goal, Ovechkin in particular looked more lost than usual in his own end...which hopefully is just continued side effects from switching to the right wing. Right?
- Fehr's second goal of the night was eerily reminiscent of his second goal in another game, wasn't it? Slightly different angle (and definitely different surroundings) but there was that same release. Welcome back, Fehrsie.
- That second goal by Fehr came about after a nice pass from Mathieu Perreault, a play which gave him three assists on the night, all primary. The last Cap to pick up three primary assists in one game? Alex Ovechkin, almost exactly two years ago...against Tampa Bay.
- Much like the first period, the Caps tightened up defensively to start the third and really brought the game to Tampa, putting them on their heels. And then just as it did in the first, the game began to loosen up. First Teddy Purcell scored a flukey sharp-angle goal to make it 4-2, and then a neutral zone breakdown and a failed pokecheck by Holtby cut the lead down to one courtesy of Nate Thompson.
- ...and then it was white-knuckle time. If you breathed in at all during that final minute or so, you consumed more oxygen than I did. Thankfully after a few scrambles, a few more big saves from Holtby (who, miscues aside, had a very strong game), and a few lucky bounces, this one went into the books as a win for the good guys.
Heart attacks aside, this was an important win for the Caps. It extended their winning streak to three games (a feat in and of itself when you think back to where they were a few weeks ago) and gave them their second straight road win. It was also a good win against a tough team, a bit of redemption for that season-opening disaster and a crucial two points that allows them to inch closer to where they want to be. All in all, a good night for the Caps.
Just maybe a bit less exciting next time, eh boys?