38 Not So Special – The Caps opened up the 38th season of their NHL existence on Saturday night against the Lightning in Tampa Bay. Playing under new head coach Adam Oates, the Caps put themselves in a position to come away with a point or two when they evened the game at 3-3 on a Wojtek Wolski goal late in the second period.
Playing on the road in the season opener in front of a packed house, they were in a good spot, all even with 20 minutes to play.
But things unraveled in the third. A string of penalties against the Caps that started late in the first continued when Mathieu Perreault and Nicklas Backstrom were whistled for tripping calls just 64 seconds apart early in the final frame, giving the Lightning a two-man advantage for 56 seconds. The Bolts took advantage of the Capitals’ penalty largesse, scoring on the 5-on-3 to take a 4-3 lead. Tampa Bay added an insurance tally and got another power play goal – its third of the game – late to take a 6-3 decision over the Capitals.
The game was sloppy; a stretch of about 10 minutes from late in the first period to early in the second was the longest without a penalty being called in the contest. Washington was somewhat sloppy in its own end at times as well; mistakes and/or breakdowns in coverage led to each of Tampa Bay’s three even-strength strikes.
“We definitely had some breakdowns out there and they were pretty apparent,” laments Caps defenseman Tom Poti. “I think the only way to go is up. Learning a new system is hard. At the same time we’ve got to get through it and battle through it. We definitely had a few miscues. Against the team that we played tonight with forwards as good as they are, they’re going to put it in the back of the net when you make a mistake. That’s what happened tonight. I think they capitalized on every single one of our mistakes.”
Caps goalie Braden Holtby was dented for six goals on 34 shots, but Oates didn’t find fault with the goaltender’s game in the immediate aftermath of the setback.
“I don’t fault Holts at all on the goals,” says Oates. “I think it was more all of us. He played hard. I’ll talk to the goalie coach and we’ll evaluate that on Monday.”
Top Talent – Tampa Bay’s top six forwards combined for 22 of the team’s 34 shots on net. The Lightning’s top two lines combined for four goals and eight assists on the night.
Washington’s top six combined to account for 14 of the Capitals’ 30 shots on net, contributing one goal and two assists along the way.
Six-Packed – The Capitals enjoyed the game’s first three power plays, going on the man-advantage three times in a span of just 6:37 at the start of the game. After that point, Tampa Bay enjoyed each of the game’s next six power plays, and the Lightning scored on two of those.
“It’s weird,” says Oates. “Three power plays to start the game is not what you really want because you want to get all the guys going in the game and get the flow going. We had our chances. [We made] a lot of little mistakes; [it’s] to be expected. And a little bit of it [was] conditioning; we were a little tired at times. We’ll watch the tape tomorrow and address the boys on Monday.”
The Caps led 7-0 in shots on goal at one point early in the first, and Washington had a glorious opportunity to jump out to an early lead, but it couldn’t cash in on either of its first two chances. Lightning defenseman Eric Brewer staked his team to a 1-0 lead, scoring on the Bolts’ first shot of the night.
Caps right wing Joel Ward got that one back, scoring with just 12 seconds remaining in the third Washington power play of the first period. Vincent Lecavalier scored on Tampa Bay’s second shot of the not to restore the home team’s one-goal advantage.
“I don’t think we ever want to take that many penalties but that’s how games go sometimes,” says Holtby. “We’ve got to adapt – especially myself – to situations like that and be better.”
Tables Turned – Washington fired a total of 26 shots toward the Tampa Bay net in the first period to just 13 shot tries for the Lightning. But the Bolts turned those tables on the Caps in the game’s final 40 minutes, teeing up 38 shot attempts to just 24 for Washington.
Early Returns – Wolski and Ribeiro both made good impressions in their first games in Capitals’ sweaters. Wolski had a goal and an assist, and Ribeiro picked up a helper.
The two combined on a neat play that resulted in the tying goal with 1:45 left in the second period. Ribeiro came down the right side with a few Lightning skaters along with him. He didn’t have much of an angle for a decent shot, but knew that Wolski was driving the center lane just behind him.
Ribeiro took a shot, shooting high so Lightning goalie Anders Lindback wouldn’t be able to glove it. Sure enough, the rebound kicked right out into the slot where Wolski calmly potted it.
“That’s the only thing you had, especially with a goalie that big,” says Ribeiro. “He’s probably going to go butterfly like most goalies and take it away. I want to put that high here [pointing to shoulders] or low in his pads and just create a rebound. That’s what happened there.”
Then, without prompting, Ribeiro changed course and lamented a play he thought he should have made on the 5-on-3 in which the Lightning scored the go-ahead goal in the third. Ribeiro briefly had the puck on his stick but was unable to clear, and seconds later Lightning forward Martin St. Louis scored his second goal of the night to give the Bolts a 4-3 lead.
“But once again, I think if I clear that puck it might be different. I can say there are so many things that happen in a game. To get in the position that I did – there are details of the game that cost you and that was one of them.”
Ribeiro’s honesty was refreshing. He appears to be a solid addition.
Ward Power – Ward’s power play goal was his first since May 5, 2011 when he scored a power play goal for Nashville in a second-round playoff game against Vancouver. It was his first power play goal as a Capital and his first in the regular season since March 8, 2011.
The goal was also Ward’s first regular season goal since Feb. 24, 2012. Ward notched the fourth two-goal game of his career on Saturday night, and his first since March 18, 2009.
Back In The Saddle Again – Poti played 13:20 on 19 shifts in his first NHL game in two years and a week. He had an assist and was a minus-2 on the night. Poti logged 28 seconds worth of power play time and 3:27 while the Caps were shorthanded.
Poti’s assist on Ward’s first goal was his first NHL point since Dec. 21, 2010. It was his first power play point since Dec. 6, 2010.
Rust Never Sleeps – Both sides looked a little bit rusty at times in their first NHL action since last spring. Although Holtby played for AHL Hershey during the lockout, he hadn’t been between the pipes for a game in 13 days.
“I think maybe,” he answers, when asked if rust was a factor. “I could feel it in the first a bit trying to get back in the swing of things. It’s hard to say. I was trying to focus on my own game out there; I’m not really sure what the guys thought. We’ll find out [Monday] at video.”
The six goals against in Saturday’s opener are a single-game career high for Holtby in the NHL. He played in two seven-game playoff series last spring, allowing a total of 15 goals in each of the seven-game sets.
Oates thought perhaps the rust was a by-product of subpar conditioning.
“I think some of the mistakes came from conditioning,” says the Caps’ bench boss. “We got tired at times. The game went in waves. We can’t really give them a 5-on-3 at the start of the third period. That obviously hurt us. We came back at the end of the second, and to have to do it again, we knew it was going to be difficult.”
No Shot – Washington went 10 minutes and 15 seconds without recording a shot on goal from 6:48 to 17:03 of the second period. The Caps led the Lightning 19-9 in shots at one point but ended up on the short end of a 34-30 shot count at night’s end. Washington successfully killed two penalties during that stretch.
A Man Down – Caps defenseman Jack Hillen left the game with an upper body injury that he sustained after absorbing a Lecavalier bodycheck behind the Washington net in the first period. Hillen did not return to the action and more will be known about his condition when the Caps convene again for practice at Kettler on Monday.
Blueline Workload – Hillen’s injury may have played a small part, and certainly the amount of special teams play was a factor, but Washington’s blueline ice time was severely skewed in Saturday’s opener.
Mike Green logged 26:57 to lead all skaters on both sides. John Carlson skated 25:02, including 6:49 of Washington’s game total of 11:09 in shorthanded ice time. Karl Alzner worked for 22:31 on the night.
After that, the minutes were more sparsely spread. Poti had 13:20, Roman Hamrlik had 12:36, Jeff Schultz had 9:15 and Hillen just 3:29 before departing.
“I thought they tried,” says Oates of his defensemen, none of whom played professionally during the lockout. “Obviously Carly and Alzner played great. It was very difficult for the guys. So many minutes and we talked about the new system, first game, so [there were] a lot of little factors. But the guys tried hard, and that’s what I asked of them before the game.”
Grand Game – Lecavalier played in his 999th career NHL game on Saturday against the caps. He’ll hit the 1000 mark on Monday when the Lightning visits the Islanders in New York.
“I think it’s the best milestone in hockey for any position,” says Oates, “because that means you had to play a long time for a lot of coaches in a lot of situations, a lot of contact, and be dedicated. I think it’s the best milestone.”
The 32-year-old Lecavalier has played only for the Lightning, the organization that drafted him first overall in 1998. Playing in 1,000 games is a special achievement; doing so while playing for the same club is increasingly rare.
”It’s very unique now in sports with guys [playing] a long time,” says Oates, who was an assistant coach with the Lightning in 2009-10. “Good for him. He’s won a Stanley Cup here, he’s been the captain, he’s been the catalyst and the face of the franchise for a long time. He’s done a great job.”
Two Decades – The Lightning held a ceremonial puck drop prior to the game to commemorate the team’s 20th anniversary. Hockey Hall of Famer Phil Esposito was the team’s original GM; he is now the team’s radio analyst. He joined a handful of original members of the Lightning on the ice for the puck drop.
Those original Bolts included ex-Caps defenseman Joe Reekie, who set a club record for defensemen with four assists in the team’s very first game back in 1992-93. Caps defenseman Roman Hamrlik – the last member of the original Lightning who is still active in the NHL – also participated in the ceremony. Now the NHL’s all-time active leader in games played, Hamrlik was an 18-year-old rookie for the Bolts back in ’92-93.
Hamrlik spent the first five and a half seasons of his NHL career with the Lightning.
Welcome To The Show – Bolts rookie Cory Conacher had a memorable NHL debut on Saturday night. He picked up and assist and added his first NHL goal in the third period. Conacher won rookie of the year and MVP honors in the AHL last season, becoming just the fourth player in league history to do so. He also won the AHL scoring title and played for the Calder Cup champion Norfolk Admirals.
By The Numbers – Ovechkin was on the ice for 7:08 of Washington’s 7:48 of power play time … Ward led the Caps with five shots on net … Troy Brouwer and Jason Chimera led the Caps with three hits each … John Carlson paced Washington with four blocked shots … Matt Hendricks won all six draws he took … Lecavalier and St. Louis each had five shots on goal to lead the Lightning … Keith Aulie led the Bolts in hits; he had five in just 10:10 of ice time … Lecavalier cleaned up in the face-off circle, winning 18 of 24 (75%).