It’s still an odd sensation to walk out of Verizon Center without one Capital finding the back of the net. When a team loses a game 1-0 in overtime like Washington did Tuesday to Tampa Bay and its new goalie Dwayne Roloson, the Achilles’ heel probably wasn’t your goalie, or the defense, and Caps coach Bruce Boudreau made it clear where the problem lies:
“Thank God we’re getting good goaltending and playing solid defense, cause we’re not scoring a lot of goals,” Boudreau said. “If we had went to the net a little harder, we would have scored goals.”
That does seem to be the one theme that did carry over from last year’s ridiculously point-productive team: a lack of net presence that displayed itself again last night, and especially during the power plays, which, despite largely crisp puck movement, produced nothing on the scoreboard for the hosts.
Tampa, meanwhile, brought a physical game, with OFB noting Nate Thompson’s presence in the first period near both Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Tampa also brought newly acquired netminder Dwayne Roloson, and the 41-year-old, while not often called upon to stand on his head Tuesday night, played positionally sound and sure made Bolts’ GM Steve Yzerman look like a genius for a night. Capitals’ defenseman Karl Alzner noted the impact of another member of the Lightning and complimented Tampa’s role players and their execution.
“I noticed, at least, [Mattias] Ohlund was all over Ovi a couple times, made a couple of pretty decent-sized hits,” Alzner said. “I know it’s frustrating to — well, I don’t know, because I’m not an offensive guy — but I assume it’s frustrating every time you try to make a play and there’s a guy in your face. That’s what me and [John] Carlson are trying to do.”
At the other end of the ice, Semyon Varlamov offered another jewel of a showing on the night of his being the NHL’s no. 1 star of the week and seemed to deserve a better fate.
Drawing Tampa is a tough assignment for the Capitals defense — the Lightning have the second and third place offensive point leaders in Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos — but the Capitals successfully kept Stamkos off the point sheet Tuesday.
“That’s always nice when you set out to do a mission and to keep a guy pointless. When that happens, it’s always great,” Alzner noted. “But, at the same time, their other guy we wanted to key on to, he ended up getting the game winner, and that’s a little bit frustrating for us.”
Carlson said being matched against other teams’ top offensive players are what he wants, but when you fail, “You get the weight of the world on your shoulders.”
While the Capitals’ power play productivity is still stuck in 2009-2010 efficiency and goals generally are in a recession, the penalty kill has flourished. The team is third in the league in penalty killing, and the Capitals who are logging the most shorthanded ice time so far this season — Jeff Schultz, Carlson, Brooks Laich, Mike Green, and Alzner — were key to the Capitals killing off all three penalties against Tampa Tuesday.
“It’s why I think our record is 6-0-2 in the last eight games,” Boudreau said. “It certainly isn’t the power play.” Note: The Capitals are actually 5-1-2 over their last 8 games.
Alzner, meanwhile, said the conversation surrounding this game in light of the previous Winter Classic frenzy was simple: don’t get into a lull, and “don’t wait for it to be the Winter Classic again.”
He and John Carlson agreed the Capitals got off to a slow start in the game, however. Semyon Varlamov looked shaky for the first several minutes before settling down and shutting out Tampa’s offense until Martin St. Louis scored in overtime.
The good news is that anyone with a mustard seed of hockey sense knows a world where Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Nicklas Backstrom aren’t scoring goals is inevitably doomed. The penalty kill prowess, meanwhile, looks like it could be here to stay.