To be sure last night's game, which started with the Capitals jumping out to a 2-0 lead and pretty much dominating the first period before Martin St. Louis put the 'Bolts on the scoreboard at 15:48 of the first period on a goal that Jose Theodore can't be faulted on, was "scrappy" and physical. But there really weren't any cheap shots and the game showed how close Tampa Bay is to being a "contender." Without a doubt the best player in a Tampa Bay uniform last night was Martin St Louis, but Steven Stamkos shows each game more and more how much he is "the real deal" too and former Capital Matt Pettinger had a good game as well. In the end though the Caps just had too much for the 'Bolts last night.
The "coolest" statistic of the night you ask. For me its that Nicklas Backstrom was 14 for 16 (88%) in the faceoff circle to lead the Caps in that category on a night when they were all pretty solid in the faceoff circle (59% overall). The sophomore first line center also had two (2) goals and an assist and three (3) shots on goal. Backstrom is now tied for #3 in the league in assists with Pavel Datsyuk of Detroit behind only Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, pretty good company, eh? Alexander Ovechkin had a four point night last night with two goals and two assists but Backstrom got the first star of the night while OV got the second. Defenseman Brian Pothier, who as has been well chronicled recently returned after being on the IR list for 14 months, scored the game winning goal, his first of the season and earned the third star of the game. Caps goaltender Jose Theodore put in a reasonable night's work stopping 36 of 39 shots he faced for a SV% of 0.923 and his 27th win of the season in 49 starts. Overall, it wasn't the best night by the Capitals but it was a good night. The first goal Tampa Bay scored was the result of a misplayed clearing attempt by the Caps skaters and the second Tampa Bay goal came from a shot the Theodore no doubt wanted back. The third goal was the result of a solid effort by the 'Bolts and again the five skaters on the ice will no doubt watch that section of tape and the 40 seconds preceding the goal a couple of times to understand how they got burned. However, in the end the Caps can look at the third period as an example of what they can do when they decide it's time to take control of a game, despite being out-shot by a count of 15 - 10 by the Lightning.
The Capitals are now only three points behind the Bruins in the Conference standings for first in the East. Of course the Bruins still have 3 games in hand on the Caps and the third place Devils have two games in hand on them, the Bruins and the Devils are each playing one of those games tonight. Last night's win means the Capitals finish the month of March with a 6-5-2 record (0.538 hockey) after dropping the first three games of the month. It also means Washington is 6-2-2 in their last 10 games (0.700 hockey). Much is being made relative to the motivation and drive, or seeming lack there-of by the Caps of late but from a W-L perspective, "the trend is once again our friend." The Caps have just six (6) games remaining, two against teams working to "play their way into the post season - Florida and Buffalo currently in 9th and 10th place in the Conference respectively. The Capitals other four remaining games are: the pesky New York Islanders who are playing for pride and challenging playoff teams, including Detroit who they beat tonight; a home and home against Atlanta who at 7-3-0 in their last ten games are one of the hottest teams in the league right now; and Tampa Bay one final time in Tampa who will be working hard to ensure they are not swept by the Caps this season.
The Caps seem to be on track for a 104 - 107 point season with 49 or 50 wins. That would be a pretty good bar to set and will position them well as a "legitimate contender" this year. The Devils now appear to be on track for a 105 - 107 point season and the Bruins are now seemingly on track for a 110 point season. So it certainly still appears the Capitals and the Devils are in a dogfight for second place with Boston though "slowing down" on track to hold on to the Conference lead. Last night was a good start at making sure the Caps don't get too lax during these last three weeks of the regular season while they are playing teams behind them in the standings. Next up the 15th place NY Islanders on Wednesday evening at Verizon Center...
LETS GO CAPS!!!!!