Last night's Caps game against the Lightning... wow. What to say about it?
Well, I was right that the Caps were able to give themselves a little cushion in second place.
But man, was that ugly. Let's start with the fact that there were two stretches of the game, of ten or more minutes each, where the Caps didn't even manage to attempt a shot.
And Green's first period? Missed lift check led to a double-minor high sticking. Missed poke check led to a tripping call. Lone man back on a 2-on-1, and played the shot instead of the pass. All of that led to three goals, and me turning the game off for a while. When I turned it back on (after putting the kids to bed), I found out that he turned things around by taking another high sticking penalty and a misconduct less than a minute later. Ouch.
Holtby got pulled after that third goal, although I don't think he really deserved it. One of those goals was through a double screen (he didn't see the shot coming, and I have no idea how the puck made it through the mass of bodies. Even after watching the replay). The third was Green's neglecting to defend the pass, leading to an easy score. The second was stoppable, but would have been a tough stop on a hard one-timer.
Once that penalty-box parade ended, the top line was finally able to play a bit, and scored off a face-off in the zone three minutes after that last Tampa score.
The second period mostly went Washington's way (though one could debate how much of that was due to the boarding major that sent Alzner to the dressing room for a short bit); they led in goals and shots.
They cut the lead to two towards the end of an early power play with some good puck movement. It quickly became apparent that Tampa's entire PK strategy was predicated around stopping OV, so the Caps kept trying to feed Brouwer in the slot. That didn't really work, but did eventually get a rebound to Backstrom while Bishop was down, and Nicky put it home.
The Caps kept trying to chip away, although Tampa got the next goal when Johnson intercepted a pass right around the blue line. They brought it back on a 3-on-2. I thought it'd been broken up when one of the passes got slowed a lot, but they were still able to put the shot on net and Johnson found himself undefended with the rebound.
Things weren't looking good, then, as play went back and forth with no sustained pressure for several minutes. And then Alzner was drilled from behind, and went head-first into the boards, leading to a major for boarding (I was glad to see, on the replay, that Panik stopped to apologize to Karl for it; he could have been seriously injured). That gave Washington the power play for the remainder of the period.
It did not take long to capitalize; they won the draw, worked it once around the zone, then MarJo caught OV making a back-door cut to the net for a goal in twelve seconds. The second goal took a bit longer, and probably required OV's man to lose his stick, but Green passed over to OV for his regular one-timer to tie the game back up at four. And make hats rain down on the ice.
Despite the power play lasting another minute and change in that period, and over a minute in the third, there were no more goals on it.
And the rest of the game, in fact, went without penalty (although there was a pretty egregious interference no-call at one point).
Offense in the third period, for the Caps, was basically a tale of two shifts (the first of which might have been two back-to-back). Unfortunately, there was over ten minutes without even an attempt at a shot in between. Fortunately, the second of those shifts (with about thirty seconds left) resulted in a goal.
That goal matched the one that the Lightning, with their steady pressure throughout the period, scored during that huge lull.
That goal was also OV's fourth of the game (and Nicky's fourth assist, to go with his one goal), so there were a few more hats thrown down.
That put the game into overtime again, which was basically firewagon hockey, as the puck went from end to end to end to end. The five minutes got ten shots from the two teams, and there were some very good chances. But no one was able to convert, and another one went into the shootout for the Caps.
I was initially very fearful of the shootout, with it being Gru's first (and especially remembering Holtby's first), but he looked very good. He did get beaten twice, but had a really nice poke check on St Louis, and generally seemed calm and in control.
And at the other end, Fehr, Grabo, and Brouwer all converted, which was enough to give the Caps the two points for which they were looking.
Again, it was a brutally ugly game (33.3% FF%, 5-on-5 close) at evens, but the goaltending and special teams were good enough to even it out. And it was probably Greenie's worst day at the office, ever. The penalty kill was so-so; the two goals allowed in five chances wasn't too good, but they did keep it down to only six shots (which still isn't great, but is an improvement in how they've been doing).
All in all, the only things to be pleased about were the play of OV and Backstrom (five goals and four assists between them) and the power play (especially OV getting those two PPGs, despite the entire defense being keyed to stop him, personally). This was not a formula for winning a game, but we'll be glad they pulled it out anyway.
Next up is Florida; definitely a prime chance to keep ahead of Carolina and New York. I'd like to make a joke here about Florida and loser points (based on their record last season), but the Caps are far worse, this season. Despite that, Go Caps!