Five thoughts on the Capitals’ win over Tampa Bay

December 11, 2013
Washington Capitals defenseman Mike Green (52) skates with the puck as he is defended by Tampa Bay Lightning center Alex Killorn (17) in the first period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Alex Ovechkin scored four goals – watch all four of them here — to lead Washington’s rally from a three-goal deficit and secure a 6-5 shootout win over the Lightning Tuesday night. The Capitals also came away with perhaps a bigger individual victory when Karl Alzner managed to avoid injury when he was hit by Richard Panik.

Five thoughts on the dramatic win over Tampa Bay.

1. Nicklas Backstrom. How often does a player record five points, a goal and four assists, and wind up receiving second billing? In the case of Washington’s franchise center, more often than not, given that he plays alongside one of the league’s most prolific goal scorers and honestly doesn’t mind relinquishing the spotlight.

But on Tuesday night Backstrom had an equally strong game as Ovechkin, in his own understated way.

“Played a great game,” Coach Adam Oates said. “In New York the other night he had one of his best games and he just rolled into [Tuesday].”

Backstrom skated 21:55 against the Lightning and won 68 percent (15-for-22) of the faceoffs he took, including a draw that set up Ovechkin’s first goal that sparked the comeback. In the second period, he managed to capitalize on a broken play on the man advantage. With chaos around Tampa Bay netminder Ben Bishop the puck popped out to him and Backstrom fired a shot high to help Washington chip away at the lead even further.

For as much as Ovechkin finished plays and grabbed headlines Tuesday night, it took both of Washington’s superstar players to engineer that comeback.

“Adam and the rest of the coaching staff is giving us a lot of ice time. We should produce,” Backstrom said. “It’s been a little up and down for me, and it’s personal. You never feel good when you’re down 3-0, you want to do what you can.”

Troy Brouwer was a little less humble when describing his teammate’s efforts.

“I think I’ve been saying it for two years, Ovi’s our leader and a great player but I think Nicky is the guy that makes this team run. He’s able to distribute the puck so well that Ovi gets those scoring opportunities and gets the ability to score goals,” Troy Brouwer said. “I know he was second assist on three of the four assists he had but those plays on the half wall to get it up to the D-man, Ovi’s still got to make a shot but Nicky’s got to be able to make those plays happen; the faceoff goal, winning the draw. I think he likes being overlooked to be honest with you. I don’t think he likes to be in the spotlight, the guy that everybody’s talking about he just likes to quietly go about his business and be a huge factor on this team.”

Here’s his goal.

2. Can’t stop it even when they know it’s coming. That’s the most maddening part about Alex Ovechkin for opposing teams even though they know where he sets up, particularly on the power play, and how he only needs an instant to fire one of his blistering shots past a goaltender it still happens on such a consistent basis. Against the Lightning, three of his four goals including both power play tallies were one-timers from in or around the left faceoff circle.

“Let’s face it, you can’t leave No. 8 [open],” Tampa Bay Coach Jon Cooper said. “He didn’t even have to work for his goals. He didn’t move on the first one, he didn’t move on the last two at all. If you are going to let that guy take shots, well, this is sometimes going to happen. That’s the disappointing part. We know where he is, we know what he can do. We just didn’t have a stick on him, we weren’t in the lane and that’s the troubling part.”

Occasionally Ovechkin’s drawn criticism for being too predictable threat in that spot. (It happened more during the two-season slump when he was equally predictable at even strength when still on left wing.) Certainly there are times when you, me along with everyone in the building and next county knows the Capitals are looking to set Ovechkin up for a one timer on the power play. But here’s the thing – if it works why change it? Ovechkin’s been in the league for nine years and teams still can’t find a way to prevent him from getting those one-timers off in the circle well, that’s their problem.

3. Green’s penalties. It’s quite the feat to be whistled for 18 penalty minutes – double minor for high sticking, tripping minor, another high sticking minor and a 10 minute misconduct — in the first 11:42 of a contest but that’s exactly what Mike Green did Tuesday night. Not only did he surpass his previous career high for penalty minutes in a game (7) but it was the most penalty minutes by a Capitals defenseman in a single game since Bryan Muir received 19 back on Dec. 11, 2006. (s/t Adam Vingan)

Tampa Bay recorded a pair of power play goals while he was sitting in the box as the Capitals fell behind 3-0 at the start of the contest.

“It’s hard to play when you take that many penalties early. You don’t get a chance to get into the game, we didn’t even know how we were going to play,” Coach Adam Oates said. “He bounced back the second half of the game, it’s a tough environment you get booed, people pay a lot of money and the start you had – he knows, he’s not happy about it. we’ll talk about what it is, preparation, etc. but he had a better second half of the game.”

Green did settle into the game as it progressed, once he was out of the penalty box in the second period, and had the setup for Ovechkin’s first game-tying goal that made the score 4-4 late in the middle stanza. But still it’s never good to see any player, let alone one of the team’s top three defensemen all but single-handedly derail a start by taking too many penalties.

“Little overaggressive and I’ve got to watch my stick,” Green said following Wednesday’s practice. “It was frustrating, but it is what it is.”

4. Grubauer take two. Two games, two tough environments and two strong outings for goaltending prospect Philipp Grubauer. He recorded 32 saves in relief Tuesday night and did his part to help Washington mount its impressive comeback against the Lightning.

“Grubi, coming in into a tough situation handled it really, really well,” Brouwer said. “You don’t always know what you’ll get from young guys and I thought he had as much confidence as anybody on the ice.”

Grubauer has poise and a self-assured nature in the net that carries over to his teammates. But in no moment did he display more confidence than when he decided to poke check Marty St. Louis in the third round of the shootout as the Capitals fought for two points.

“I just looked at the guys, which way they’re shooting if they’re a lefty or righty,” Grubauer said of his approach in the shootout. As for St. Louis? “He came in kind of weird, he wanted to pull a move on me so I figured I’d play a little aggressive.”

5. Discipline for Panik? Lightning winger Richard Panik will have a hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety Wednesday but it’s tough to tell whether he’ll receive any significant punishment for his boarding penalty on Karl Alzner. The Capitals’ defenseman wound up no worse for wear and returned to the contest and Panik has no prior disciplinary history. From hearing Alzner’s explanation of the play and watching it repeatedly, the hit seems to be more of a hockey play gone awry than a player deliberately trying to send an opponent hard into the boards. But as we’ve all learned, there’s no way to really handicap what type of punishment the NHL will or won’t dole out.

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Katie Carrera · December 11, 2013