Three Up – Washington ran its winning streak to three straight with a 4-3 win over the Lightning in Tampa Bay on Thursday night.
Eric Fehr scored a pair of goals, Mathieu Perreault had three assists for the first time in his NHL career, Braden Holtby made 27 saves to earn his fourth victory of the season and the Caps won the special teams battle to win their third straight game, all against Southeast Division foes.
Troy Brouwer staked the Caps to an early lead, scoring a power-play goal on what would prove to be Washington’s lone man-advantage opportunity of the game. Brouwer’s goal came on a one-timer from the slot after a series of crisp passes to set it up, the last of those a perfect feed from Perreault at the goal line.
The Lightning drew even on a Martin St. Louis goal midway through the first, but Fehr’s first goal of the game at 5:09 of the second gave Washington a lead it would not relinquish.
Joel Ward hustled into the Lightning end and stripped a defender of the puck behind the Tampa Bay net. He worked it in front where Perreault was able to get it to Fehr who was well positioned to take advantage of a yawning net.
“I saw [Ward] forcing the puck on the [defenseman] and I figured he was going to slip it out to one side. I had one side and Perreault had the other, and Matty gave a nice pass to me. I put it almost too high but in.”
Perreault fed Fehr for his second of the night, too, a rocket of a slapshot from the circle along the right wing wall at 2:22 of the third. The goal was reminiscent of Fehr’s Game 7 overtime game-winner for the AHL Hershey Bears against Portland at Giant Center in May, 2006. That goal nearly seven years ago propelled the Bears to the Calder Cup final against the Milwaukee Admirals.
“I know Perreault wanted to get it deep but I saw the [defenseman] kind of cheating over to him so I called for it. He made a nice pass and I juts tried to put it on net.”
The Caps pushed their lead to 4-1 – marking the first time this season they’ve had a three-goal lead on the road – on a gritty goal from Jay Beagle at 7:29. Jeff Schultz’s shot from the left point went on goal, and the Lightning was unable to corral the rebound before a sprawling Beagle knocked it past Tampa Bay goaltender Mathieu Garon.
That Beagle goal was a good reward for a great night’s worth of forechecking for the Caps’ center and linemates Matt Hendricks and Joey Crabb.
“Right from the first shift, we all three felt good. We were talking about getting our cycle going even before the game. We’re kind of knowing each other now, and we know where each other is going to be. It’s getting to that point where it’s becoming easier to play with each other when you know where you’re linemates are going to be.
“And we know our role. We’ve got to play down in their end and grind it out. That was a grinder goal I got.”
The Caps needed every bit of the offense they mustered on this night, because the Bolts bounced back with a pair of late strikes.
“You have to use it as a learning curve,” says Caps coach Adam Oates of the game getting tighter at the end. “We obviously did a lot of good things to make it 4-1. We made a mistake off a face-off to make it 4-2 and then we didn’t protect the puck as good as we should have in their end and we gave a guy a breakaway, which we shouldn’t [do].”
Six Pack – Brouwer’s power-play goal in the first period gave the Caps a sixth straight game with at least one power-play tally for the first time in nearly three years.
The last time the Caps strung together as many as six straight games with an extra-man strike was a seven-game run from March 6-18, 2010. Washington was 10-for-27 (37%) on the power play in those seven games, and it posted a 4-1-2 mark during that run.
Holting The Fort – Holtby made several strong stops early in the contest when the game was still tight, and he held the Lightning’s vaunted snipers to three goals on the night. Tampa Bay entered the game with a league-leading average of three goals per game.
“That’s what we’ve needed,” says Holtby. “I haven’t been coming up with those as much as I should be. It’s my job to make those saves. It’s my contribution to a win and I’m going to continue to try and make those.”
Holtby is his own harshest critic, and although he was happy with the win, he was ruing a failed pokecheck bid on a breakaway that resulted in the Lightning’s third goal of the game.
“The first two periods were good,” says Holtby. “In the third, I just made a bad decision and luckily it didn’t cost us. I read it wrong, it’s just a bad mistake.”
“Other than maybe the gamble on the breakaway, I thought Holts played great,” says Oates.
Holtby is the first Caps goalie to start and win three consecutive games since Michal Neuvirth started and won three straight nearly a year ago, from Feb. 24-28, 2012. The last time a Washington goaltender started and won four straight games was when Tomas Vokoun turned the trick from Dec. 28, 2011 to Jan. 3, 2012.
Special Delivery – Washington won the special teams battle again, scoring on its only power play opportunity of the night and snuffing out each of the Lightning’s two extra-man chances.
The Caps have now gone three straight games without allowing a power-play goal for the first time this season and for the first time since a six-game run from March 22-31, 2012.
The Capitals are 11-for-31 (35.5%) on the power play since starting the 2012-13 season by going 2-for-17 with the extra man in their first three-plus games.
In their last three games, the Capitals have scored four power-play goals and have done so with just five power-play shots on goal for a lusty shooting pct. of 80%.
During the life of the team’s current six-game streak with at least one power-play goal, it has scored eight extra-man tallies on 18 shots (44.4%).
The Caps’ power play unit is now ranked fourth in the NHL with a 27.1% success rate. Washington’s penalty-killing outfit is now at 75% on the season, 24th in the circuit.
Red Light District – Washington failed to score more than three goals in each of its first 11 games of the season, totaling 25 tallies in those 11 contests. The Caps have now racked up a total of 15 goals during the life of their current three-game winning streak.
With an average of 2.86 goals per game on the season, Washington is tied for ninth in the NHL.
First Strike – Tonight’s game marked the fifth straight road game in which Washington has scored the game’s first goal. The Caps are now 2-3 in those contests.
First Strike, Part Deux – Thursday’s game marked the third consecutive contest in which a Capital scored his first goal of the season. Mathieu Perreault notched his first on Saturday against Florida. Fehr and Karl Alzner each scored their first goal of the season on Tuesday against the Panthers, and Beagle netted his first of the season in Thursday’s win over the Lightning.
Fifty-Fifty – Fehr’s first goal was the 50th goal and the 100th point of his NHL career. With three goals in 11 games this season, Fehr now has one more than he managed in 35 games with the Winnipeg Jets in 2011-12.
Thursday was the fourth two-goal game of Fehr’s NHL career and his first since March 9, 2011 vs. Edmonton.
With three goals on the season, Fehr is tied with Matt Hendricks for fifth on the team.
Shooting Gallery – All 18 Washington skaters fired at least one shot on goal in Thursday’s game, and the Caps finished the night with 39, a single-game high this season. Washington had gone seven straight games without as many as 30 shots on net.
The Ladder – Thursday’s win enabled the Caps to keep pace with front-running Carolina in the chase for the top spot in the Southeast Division. Washington now has 11 points on the season, tied with Winnipeg, Florida, Buffalo and the New York Islanders for 11th in the Eastern Conference standings.
The Caps are four points off the pace for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference standings, a slot currently occupied by the New York Rangers. Washington’s next game is Sunday in New York against the Rangers.
The 200 Club – Caps defenseman John Carlson played in the 200th game of his NHL career on Thursday in Tampa Bay.
Happy Anniversary – Thursday marks the fourth anniversary of Mike Green’s NHL-record eighth straight game with a goal. It’s also the anniversary of Caps goaltender Michal Neuvirth’s first NHL victory, a 5-1 triumph over the Lightning in Tampa that came in his first NHL start.
Net Absence – Lightning goaltender Anders Lindback did not take the morning skate on Thursday because of illness, an illness that prevented him from starting Thursday’s game. Lindback was dressed and on the bench for the game.
Backup Bolts goaltender Garon got the start instead. Garon entered the game with a 4-1-1 lifetime record to go along with a 2.37 GAA and a .910 save pct. against the Capitals.
Caps Killer – Veteran Lightning winger Martin St. Louis is a notorious caps killer, so it was no surprise to see him with another multiple-point game (goal, assist) against the Capitals on Thursday. St. Louis now has 26 goals and 73 points in 70 career games against the Capitals.
The degree of damage St. Louis has inflicted on Washington has been even greater over the last seven seasons, including this one. Since the start of the 2006-07 campaign, St. Louis has totaled 19 goals and 35 assists for 54 points in just 42 games against Washington.
Not Tonight – In their previous home game against Montreal on Tuesday night, the Bolts staged a furious late rally to come back from a 3-0 deficit with less than six minutes to play in regulation. Tampa Bay knotted that game, sent it into overtime and picked up a point when it lost in the shootout.
With Washington up by three goals midway through the third, the Bolts again started to get rolling offensively in Thursday’s game. They got goals from Teddy Purcell and Nate Thompson to pull within one, but were unable to get the equalizer.
As a result, the Lightning now owns a six-game losing streak (0-5-1) and is just two points ahead of Washington in the Eastern Conference and Southeast Division standings.
Five of the Lightning’s last six goals have been scored in the third period.
Happy Birthday – To Caps assistant coach and all-time games played leader Calle Johansson, who turned 46 on Thursday.
By The Numbers – Washington pulled the trigger on a total of 71 shots in Thursday’s game to just 49 for Tampa Bay … Brouwer has scored a goal in three straight games for the first time in his NHL career … Alzner led the Caps in ice time on Thursday with 26:14. It’s the first time this season that Green was not Washington’s ice time leader … John Erskine logged 23:42 on the night, the most ice time he has logged in a game that didn’t require overtime in his NHL career … Alex Ovechkin led the Caps with five shots on goal … Perreault (6-for-8, 75%) and Beagle (8-for-11, 73%) were Washington’s top face-off men … Tomas Kundratek picked up an assist, his fourth in his last five games … Tampa Bay has had 30 or fewer shots on goal in each of its last five games.