Caps @ Bolts: Game 1

Give me Goals, Give me Goals

I was really looking forward to this game. On a personal side, it is the first game I’m going to write about as the game is being played. From another side, we are seeing match up of two teams I think match up very well. Lets compare.

Series Overview

Tampa Bay Lightning. Stamkos, Kucherov, Vasilevskiy and Hedman. That’s four stars – pause – all-stars. Then you pickup Ryan McDonagh, a number one defenseman from another eastern conference club, add the emergence of Sergachev (the return from the Druoin trade) on the back end. You have a solid selection of veterans who have been late into the post season to guide your surging young players – Cirelli, Point, and walk-on Gourde. This team is so rich in experience and skill the Capitals could drown in it.

But hold on. The Capitals have Ovechkin, the greatest goal scorer of this era of hockey. That can be an argument we have another day. Backstrom, Kuznetsov and Holtby. “Shootout specialist” TJ Oshie, Eller has reshaped his game since he landed in Washington, Vrana has excelled here. The Caps defencemen ain’t no scrubs either. Niskanen, Carlson, Orlov and Orpik are a very strong top 4. Need someone in the corners? Tom Wilson. Devante Smith-Pelly. These guys aren’t afraid to hit.

Seems to me like these teams match up well. To be honest, I give Tampa the advantage on offense, probably on defense as well. Goaltending, these teams are close, but I’m leaning in favour of Holtby, longer track record and he hasn’t looked bad this post season.

Game One

First period. Not the game I expected. Sometimes, the shot counter does a poor job of representing how a game plays out. Not tonight. After one, Washington is out shooting the Bolts 9-2, while missing a key player in Backstrom, still out with an injury. Tampa had a late powerplay and got credit for one shot on goal. Holtby wasn’t bored for the period, but many shots just didn’t get through or were fired wide.

Caps open the scoring 7:28 in, and the play starts with Ovechkin driving the zone and firing a backhand wide. Ovie goes to the front of the net and parks himself. Hedman and Giradi are trying to box him out, but all they do is cause more of a screen. Vasilevsky did not see Kempny slightly drift to the middle and fire a shot into the open part of the net.

This period wasn’t even close. Maybe we witnessed the impact of the “monkey off the back” of beating the Penguins.

At the end of the first, the Caps had just killed off a penalty, and in transition (where Tampa’s speed is oh-so-dangerous) Kucherov ends up on a partial break. Kucherov is pulled down but the puck gets behind Holtby – okay it’s 1-1. Wait a minute, why have the players on the ice stopped celebrating. In the replay, you notice the linesman is very animated as he counts out the six Lightning players on the ice and he starts blowing his whistle to stop play, which noone can hear because the building is screaming over the Kucherov rush and goal. How quickly the tables turn. Tying goal is called back and now the Caps start their own powerplay with 8 seconds left carrying over into the second period. Or, they could just win the draw back to one Alex Ovechkin – the greatest goal scorer of this era – who is sitting high slot and he could fire a one timer by Vasilevskiy. That just happened, what a twist, and this Washington Capitals team heads to the locker room up 2-0.

The second twenty didn’t get any better for Tampa. Jay Beagle pots and early one just 2:40 into the frame to increase the lead to three. 4:02 later, Lars Eller pots a bouncing puck off a misfire from Ovechkin from his office. Four goal lead. At this point I’m just confused, it looks like Tampa is a youth hockey team playing a team one year above them. A couple things I wanted to mention. First, on the broadcast they were talking about the layoff that TBL had, 5 days. Washington had 4 days. I don’t accept this as a major difference maker. Second, some small things the Lightning players are doing seem less aggressive than they need to be. Small things, like hitting the dirt when you see Vrana coming to hit you in open ice, or losing the puck while skating out of your end unpressured. Amalie Arena was very quiet.

Is it just me or did that series against the Penguins add some more grey to Ovechkin’s beard?

The third period was more the style of hockey I expected. Tampa remembered they’re in the NHL! Vasilevskiy started the period on the bench in favour of Domingue. Stralman didn’t return to the game until the middle of the period, but he did return.

Chaisson took a “good” penalty, if there is such a thing, and the Lightning did that beautiful Hedman – Kucherov – Stamkos one timer goal. Classic Tampa. Palat also sniped short side on Holtby. 4-2, we have a game! Washington played defense in the third, less offensive pressure, a few more chip ins. Was this a strategy to conserve energy for the series? Or was it just complacency? Either way, the third was a much more entertaining period. Capitals hold on, like it was ever in doubt, for a 4-2 win.

I don’t have a real horse in this race, but I hope this series heats up. This is one series I’d love to see seven intense games.

Sidenote:
Also want to make mention of this, Flyers goaltending prospect Alex Lyon stopped 94 shots in a 3-2, 5OT win in the AHL playoffs with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms two days ago. We were joking that he made more saves than Elliot, Neuvirth and Mrazek combined for in the NHL playoffs.
Those three goalies combined for 156 saves in six games, but they allowed 27 goals That save percentage is .852 – atrocious. If we project that number to the 96 shots Lyon faced, the three way team from Philadelphia would have allowed 14 goals in that 8 period game.

– Bob Zagozewski

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