Tonight's contest between the Caps and Tampa Bay saw the eager return of Alex Ovechkin after serving his two-game suspension. The Capitals also saw the return of defenseman Shaone Morrison from injury.
But before we get into the nitty gritty of the game, a big Hockey Mom toast to our own Nicklas Backstrom, who was named First Star of the Week by the NHL. Backstrom led all scorers with nine points (four goals, five assists), helping the Capitals (18-5-6) rise to first place in the Eastern Conference standings with three consecutive victories. Nick posted his second two-goal game of the season and added an assist in a 3-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes Nov. 30, notched one goal in a 6-2 victory over the Florida Panthers Dec. 3 and closed the week with five points (one goal, four assists), the most by a Capitals player this season, in the 8-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday. He leads the Caps in scoring and ranks 10th in the NHL overall with 33 points (eight goals, 25 assists).
So on the the action. The story of the first period was the Caps inability to convert on their first three power plays, two of which came courtesy of Steve Downie. Varlamov played a solid first period in net. The highlight of the period came when Alex Semin executed some fancy footwork with a double toe drag moving the puck against two Bolts defenders, but was stopped cold with a stellar save from Mike Smith. The first period ended with no score for either club, which broke the Caps trend of lighting the lamp first. Washington has scored at least one goal in the first period of 25 of their 29 games, including nine straight (17-5 in that time) and the boys have scored first in 22 of 29 games this year.
The second period saw one of the better shot attempts early on from Alex Semin, but he lost an edge right as he swung his stick and fell, and alas what would've been a definite goal was not to be. At about the 13 minute mark, Vinny Lecavalier drew a trip from Mike Green and the Bolts went on the power play. Shortly after killing off the penalty, Ovechkin got the boys on the board with an absolute rocket, the result of a beautiful pass from his pal Alex Semin. Semin went to the box for a slash moments after the goal and Varly made yet another spectacular glove save against Tampa Bay's Kurtis Foster on the power play. At the 9:55 mark, both teams received penalties (Steve Downie with his third of the night for high-sticking and Jeff Schultz for a trip). With about seven minutes left in the period, Eric Fehr gave the Caps their second tally on the night after slapping in a bouncy puck past Mike Smith. The Caps got another power play opportunity late in the second thanks to Lecavalier's trip on the Great8. And Ovechkin made them pay with a nice tip in goal (after Semin stole the puck right from under a Bolt's player's nose and set it up beautifully in front of the net). End of the second period: Caps 3 - Lightning 0
About five minutes into the final period, Varly had to stand on his head as Tampa Bay peppered him with shots but the young Caps net minder stood fast. Mike Green appeared to get elbowed right in the schnozz by Tampa's David Hale in an incident that drew no penalty. Big Vinny went back to the sin bin on his second tripping call (this time on Mike Green) and the Caps put their power play back to work with 10 minutes left. The Caps didn't convert on that particular opportunity, but overall they pretty much dominated this game. Tempers flared with less than two minutes left in the game as several Caps players expressed their objection to a borderline (could have been a boarding call) hit on Brian Pothier and words and punches were exchanged between several groups of players. Steve Downie (yes, his fourth of the evening) and Matt Walker drew roughing calls for the Bolts while Eric Fehr and John Erskine drew the same for the Caps. Final Score: Caps 3 - Lightning 0
Great win boys, especially by Varly with 26 saves and the shut out. And of course, welcome back Ovie!