WASHINGTON – The Washington Capitals defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 6-5 in a shootout Monday night in a crazy, seesaw game at Verizon Center. There were four ties and four lead changes in a contest that saw it all: constant penalties, sloppy defense, and weird goals galore. But at the end of the day, Washington’s plugger third line led the way to an unlikely and key early season victory against a bitter Division rival. Jason Chimera collected career goals number 100 and 101 while Marcus Johansson had two points, including the opening goal in his return from being benched. “We showed a lot of character, our guys battled,” said goalie Tomas Vokoun. “It shows alot about this team.”
Both teams got off to a sluggish start in an opening period that saw four goals but only 13 total shots. Tampa Bay got on the board first with a fluke goal from Teddy Purcell only 2:22 into the game when the right winger threw the puck in front from a bad angle, where it bounced off of Mike Green’s skate and into the top corner. It would not be long before the hosts found a way to draw even. Marcus Johansson, who was vocal with his disappointment in being benched on Saturday, stole the puck from Dwayne Roloson below the goal line and scooted around to pot his first of the season at 4:49. “I just try to play the best I can every night,” said the sophomore center when asked about his return to active duty. “It was fun to play and work hard as a team.” Washington was soon awarded a power play to try and get some momentum after their goal, but could gain no possession and looked lost as a result.
Predictably, Tampa Bay took advantage of the Caps’ awful man advantage by scoring again, this time on an awful goal from behind the line from Bruno Gervais at 8:35; it was one that Tomas Vokoun has got to stop. The Capitals were not discouraged, and were able to draw even for a second time when a great shift by the fourth line pinned Tampa deep in their own zone. Eventaully the puck worked its way up to Dennis Wideman, who rifled a one-time slapshot that rang the left and right posts before finding twine. Both teams played good defense down the stretch of the period, and it ended knotted at two apiece.
The second period got off to an equally horrid start for the Capitals, as poor defensive coverage gave Dominic Moore a ton of time to pick a corner from the bottom of the circles to put Tampa in the lead only 56 seconds in. Again, Washington needed very little time to respond, as a great offensive line shift from the second line left Jeff Schultz wide open at the blue line. The towering defenseman had a good six seconds to tee up a shot, which was deflected in by Troy Brouwer on the doorstep, equalizing for the Caps at 3:42.
The Capitals were then awarded four consecutive power plays, each more heart-stopping than the last. Washington pinned the Lightning in their zone for extended stretches, including a long 5 on 3 advanatge, but hit the post three times and were simply unable to cash in. It appeared as though DC had taken the lead with about eight minutes to go, but the goal was washed out because the referee ruled that Brooks Laich pushed Dwayne Roloson into the goal instead of the puck. Washington kept up their pressure as the period wound down, continuting to throw pucks at the Lighting cage and creating chances, but simply could not gain the upper hand despite another late power play with a little more than a minute to go in the frame.
The hosts came out hard in the final period of regulation, pushing for the go-ahead goal. After another great shift by the second line pinned the Bolts in deep, Brooks Laich gathered a pass along the red line and drove to the net hard, putting Roloson on his backside in the process. Jason Chimera, speeding down the middle of the ice, did the rest, chipping over the fallen Tampa goaltender to give the Caps the lead with 16:00 left in the frame.
The Lightning would not go away, however, continuing the game’s theme of erasing one goal leads by scoring again, this time off a weird deflection from a long shot off the stick of Nate Thompson. After a push back from the Caps almost put the home side in the lead again, the Bolts scored another goal off another bad angle deflection, as Brett Clark sneaked one through Vokoun; another the veteran goalie has got to have. The energy was gone from Verizon Center, and it looked for a bit as though the Bolts had stolen a regulation win.
Jason Chimera had other ideas. After another good rush by Brooks Laich was turned aside, Chimera collected a loose puck down by the hash marks and fired over Roloson’s shoulder to put the hosts back on level terms at 17:16. A ferocious finish saw both teams generate great chances, but Tomas Vokoun in particular stepped up to shut down the Lightning’s potent snipers and send the game to overtime.
In the extra session, the Caps were awarded an early power play, but it was negated when Alex Semin took a hooking penalty after a minute of man advantage time. Vokoun and his penalty killers were able to keep the Lightning at bay, but Tampa kept pressing, even more so when Washington was saddled with a too many men on the ice call immediately after Semin’s penalty had expired. But again, Vokoun stood tall, making several big saves on Steven Stamkos, to send the game to a shootout. Matt Hendricks and Alex Semin scored in the skills competiton, and the Caps went home 6-5 winners.
For the second consecutive game, DC’s third line was their best line. Joel Ward, Brooks Laich, and Jason Chimera were hemming Tampa’s fearsome top line in their zone all night and were on the ice for two huge Caps goals. “When people were talking about this team, they were talking about depth,” said Bruce Boudreau after the game. “They played against Marty (St. Louis) and (Steven) Stamkos all night and I think totally were the better line.” If the Caps are able to keep their third unit playing at that level and get their top two units up to speed, it could be incredibly fun to watch, and it would bode well for a long postseason run.
Tomas Vokoun was sub-par in his Washington debut despite his exceptional finish, and he knows it. “That was probably the worst game I’ve had in five years,” the goalie said after the game. “They (the team) literally won without goaltending tonight. It should have been 5-2 at the worst…things just didn’t go my way from the beginning. It was just ugly, a very ugly game for me.” But the new Washington tender isn’t even the slightest bit worried about his form. “Sometimes you go through games like that, and it’s too bad it happend in front of the home fans. You’re so nervous, you want to make a good impression. I’m gonna make a promise to get them back next time when they need me.”
Alex Ovechkin was bad tonight. Like, mid 2010-11 bad. Ovechkin was wandering around the offensive and defensive zones and never got any offensive momentum. Ovi also only has five shots all season. The Caps’ captain did not speak to the media after the game, but Bruce Boudreau did not shy away from criticizing his star. “I think he’s got a long way to go to get to where he wants to be, where he should be, Boudreau said. “He’s our number one player, but he can be better. There is no doubt about it. He’s gotta be playing better.” Certainly harsh words from his coach, and maybe Ovechkin can start to improve on it by going to morning skates a week into the season? Hm?
The Caps have tomorrow off before practicing Wednesday and then flying to Pittsburgh for a primetime showdown with the still Crosby-less Penguins. That game is scheduled for 7 PM.