Both teams came into tonight’s contest tied atop the Southeast division with 51 points. After a Martin St. Louis overtime goal, the Lightning would leave Washington with a 1-0 win and sole possession of first place in the NHL’s Southeast division.
The Capitals would earn a point for the overtime loss but now trail Tampa by one point.
The Capitals and Lightning have two of the best offenses in the NHL. The Lightning boast two of the top three point leaders in the league in young scoring sensation Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis.
Washington, is Washington—you know the names and their capabilities.
The offenses weren’t the story by night’s end; the goalies would steal the show.
The newly acquired 41-year-old Dwayne Roloson for Tampa and the No. 1 star of Saturday’s Winter Classic, Semyon Varlamov, stopped a combined 71 shots.
It was shot No. 72 off of St. Louis’ stick that would be the game winner giving Tampa the 1-0 victory.
The Capitals came out and played as thought it were New Year's morning. Sluggish and slow, Washington would be outshot at one point in the opening stanza 9-2 and didn’t record a shot on goal for the first eight minutes of the game.
They would find their legs and began to pepper Roloson, who was making his Lightning debut. Roloson, acquired in a New Year's day trade with the New York Islanders, turned away 12 first period shots making several spectacular saves, two on Alex Ovechkin.
Roloson, the game’s No. 1 star, stopped 34 shots total and Semyon Varlamov was equally spectacular in stopping 37 shots. Varlamov made four overtime saves, he couldn't stop the fifth as St Louis ended the game 2:54 into overtime.
Both teams played fast all night as the action was end to end. Other than Washington’s slow start, the game was played at a playoff pace.
The Capitals power play was 0-3 and they could only muster six shots but it did look better than it has in recent games. The Capitals were able to set the power play up, working the puck deep with clean crisp passing.
The Capitals are playing much better defensively. They seem to be employing a form of the neutral zone trap and it looks to be paying dividends. The Capitals are 5-2 in their last seven games and have surrendered just ten goals in the process.
Washington’s new style of defense has surrendered nine fewer goals through 41 games this season than this time last year. What many thought to be the Achilles heel of the Capitals has, in fact, saved them on seven occasions this season.
The Capitals have won six games by a score of 3-2 and one game by a score of 2-1. Last season through 41 games, they won just two games 3-2 and didn’t win a 2-1 game until April 1.
The problem is they have scored 27 less goals this year than they did through 41 games last season.
The big four of Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom and Green all have fewer goals than they did this time last year. Ovechkin has 14 goals compared to 28 this time last season. The four stars combined have 23 less goals.
Ovechkin is pressing while Semin still does not hustle to the puck; he has his moments but they are just moments.
In last night’s game against Tampa, with just over five minutes remaining, Lightning goaltender Dwayne Rolson was completely out of position leaving the net wide open. Semin was the closest player to the puck, which was less than 10 feet from the net.
Instead of diving for the loose puck, which he would have chipped into the net, Semin waived at it as though he were Harry Potter using a wand. Tampa's defense recovered and knocked the puck away. It was a play a player that is dedicated to his team and winning would have made.
The Capitals must get their high powered offense on track. Last night’s game against the Lightning marked the half way point of the season for Washington.
They have just two points less through 41 games than they did this time last year. Then what is different about this season you ask?
The difference is in the rest of the division. The Capitals led the Lightning by 13 points this time last year and the Thrashers by 12.
The Capitals are being tested for the first time in the regular season since Bruce Boudreau took over three seasons ago. When Boudreau took over back in the '07-'08 season, the Capitals came from behind to win the Southeast on the last day of the regular season.
They were the feel-good story around the NHL, Boudreau was the lovable fat guy back then. Now, he's the obnoxious overweight foul mouth coach whose job is in trouble and the feel good story is now in Tampa and Atlanta.
Bruce Boudreau and the Capitals must recognize the situation they are in. They are still the best team in the division but not by the margin they used to be. Playing better defense is great, in April and May
At least Boudreau stopped blaming "hot goalies" for the Caps lack of scoring. Commenting after the game last night Boudreau said, "I think we could have got more scoring chances If we went to the net a little harder."
There's a novel idea, considering that's how they won the Winter Classic: by going to the net.
Boudrea continued, "We would have scored goals. I mean, 34 shots, when you have the ability to get more chances than that—I don't know. We're not scoring a lot of goals. Thank God we're getting good goaltending and playing solid defense because we're not scoring a lot of goals."
For now, I want to see the return of the run and gun and the west coast offense, so to speak, leave the trap defense to the New Jersey Devils.
Twenty-five fewer offensive goals are the difference, especially if you consider the Caps have lost eight games by one goal so far this season.
The Capitals must return to who they are: An offensive juggernaut that can beat you up and down the ice all night long. Unless they do, the Tampa Bay Lightning may dethrone the Capitals this year as division champs.
Come to think of it, would a little bit more adversity hurt a young team still learning how to win?
This may be exactly what the Capitals need: Battled tested and pissed off heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs may not be a bad thing.
In fact, it may just be what’s missing.