There was a lot for the Caps to be happy about in looking at tonight's win against the Lightning. That said, the Lightning didn't play good hockey and as Lightning coach John Torterella noted were it not for some spectacular saves by rookie goalie Karri Ramo, " It could have been 8-2." The game wasn't as close as the score indicated and the Caps dominated the majority of the game from a statistical perspective. In what was possibly an effort to force the Caps to let their first line "open things up", Torterella "stacked" the Lightning's first line with Prospal - Lecavalier - St. Louis. To some extent this worked, far from shutting the entire line down, Lecavalier tallied both of the Bolts goals. However, except for one shot/scoring chance by Prospal and a shorthanded break by St. Louis that caused Alex Ovechkin to hold the Lightning star and nullify a Capital's power play midway through the third period the Caps held all but Lecavalier at bay throughout the contest. Statistically the Caps out shot the Bolts in every period and ended with a 32-20 edge in shots; the Caps also played clean hockey throughout the night drawing only one penalty - the "good" two minute holding call on Ovechkin to keep St. Louis from getting shorthanded breakaway at 9:12 of the third period.
The stars of the game were the Caps third and fourth lines who not only kept the first two lines of Tampa Bay tied up much of the night but drew their own "blood" from the otherwise stingy Ramo. During his 13:54 of ice time, Capitals center Dave Steckel took 4 shots and tallied 1 goal and 2 assists (3 points) while also garnering a =/- rating of + 3 for the night; winning 55% of the 11 face offs (6/5) he took and getting the top star of the game for the night. Mike Green anchored the defense corps, logging 27:10 of ice time including 6:02 on the power play and ended the night even in the +/- category and an assist. Perhaps more of note, from midway through the third period Green seemed to take charge of the ice and ignite a spark to the Capitals prior to Matt Bradley tallying the game winner at 17:07. Green and his defensive partner Shoane Morrisonn led the Caps in ice time giving Tom Poti (TOI 17:25) some rest and allowing Brian Pothier to "ease" back in the lineup with 15:26 of ice time. Pothier, who was the number 1 star the last time the Caps and Lightning met, notched a pretty second period goal that tied the game 2-2 at 17:42 of the second period. While the Caps controlled the puck in the Bolts end and worked a line change, Pothier pinched in on the right side point to the top of the slot, caught a pretty setup pass from Steckel and Ovenchkin and drilled it top shelf, left side of the net over Ramo's blocker for then tying goal. All three of the Caps goals were fun to watch and well deserved. The first goal by Dave Steckel was scored through his own hard work and determination, punching in his own rebound from just outside the crease before Ramo could smother the puck. The game winner by Matt Bradley was a wild one that went to review to ensure it was in before the Lightning DMen "stumbled" in to the net and knocked the goal off the post. The lengthy review ensured the jubilant Caps crowd got to watch the clear goal on the "jumbotron" several times before the goal was called official; this only ensured the crowd was "boisterous" for the final 2:53 of the game.
With Brian Pothier's return both Steve Eminger and John Erskine were healthy scratches tonight, so Caps fans still don't know the extent of Eminger's "cooties". However, with Pothier's return all three Defense pairings played well and complimented each other. None of the six Capitals defensemen had a negative +/- for the game, and Pothier and Jeff Schultz were both +1.
While winning certainly is cause for some relief and the Caps clearly earned both points tonight there were a couple areas that continue to show weakness. The power play was O/4 tonight, though much of that was due to spectacular saves by Ramo, the Caps also had a couple of instances during the first three power plays where they went extended periods without a good shot. The final power play (as a result of a tripping penalty on Lecavalier in the third period) was actually the Caps worst stretch. During the minute before Ovie had to hold Lecavalier, Tampa Bay kept the Caps "off kilter". However, the Caps subsequently held off the Bolts for the 1:06 that the Bolts had the man advantage and then came alive and played fantastic hockey for the remainder of the game. If it weren't for Ramo it could have easily been a 6+goal night and everyone would be having free wings at Austin's grill. The other cause for concern centers on the defensive end of the ice, there were a couple of mistakes that led to or could have led to solid scoring chances by the Bolts. In most cases these stemmed from poor or overly long/uncrisp clearing passes. Fortunately Olie the Goalie responded in those cases and made the needed saves. However, while I haven't seen others account of Lecavalier's second goal (from a breakaway, wrist shot from the top of the left circle); you'd have to call it a relatively soft goal. Olie came out, challenged early, made the first move and got beat cleanly on a goal that you have to believe "he'd like back". Had the resurgent Caps truly completed their journey back to the team they know they can be; tonight's game would have been 6/7or even 8 - 1. Being a superstitious fan, this writer is fine with them "saving" a few goals for their tomorrow night's game against the Penguins and the upcoming Home-Home against the Senators.
The ice surface at the Verizon Center was better than it has been but it was still basically unacceptable. While not "wet" it was clearly slow and soft and there were at least four occasions that it adversely affected play and the flow of the game. During the second period, other than Karri Ramo's spectacular saves the Caps home ice was clearly Tampa bay's seventh man at times. Hopefully something will be done about this situation soon; but again winning sure makes a lot of things matter less.
32 points down/60 to go. LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!