TAMPA — Despite coughing up a two-goal lead for the fifth time in eight games, the Capitals rallied to snap their losing streak. Eric Fehr’s goal with 51.5 seconds left ensured a 4-3 victory over the Lightning Thursday night, which also featured perhaps the most highlight-reel-worthy save of the season thus far from a Washington netminder when Philipp Grubauer went into a full split to stop Ondrej Palat.
Five thoughts on the win in Tampa.
1. The new first line. The combination of Alex Ovechkin, Mikhail Grabovski and Fehr has only been together for three games but Thursday offered the best look so far of what type of offensive opportunities they can create together.
Granted, the Lightning like to play a transition-based game and will give up their fair share of chances against, so time will tell if this is more a reflection of the line or the opponent. But the trio combined for 21 attempted shots on goal – eight on net – and two even-strength goals. (Mikhail Grabovski recorded an even strength goal as well but it came without the full unit on the ice.) They would have liked to put more past Lightning netminder Anders Lindback, but it’s an encouraging showing regardless.
“We all had our chances and we all missed a bunch of chances today,” Fehr said. “Our line was talking, we were pretty disappointed that we didn’t have more speak of at the end but we got the win and we’re just going to keep finding ways to be successful.”
All three players have a nose for goal scoring but their individual strengths – Ovechkin’s shot and ability to draw the attention of an entire opposing team, Grabovski’s playmaking ability and speed, Fehr’s offensive-instincts and anticipation – made them a formidable presence in the offensive zone in Tampa. The group needs to match that with not giving up quite so much space to whoever they’re out on the ice against, as Coach Adam Oates mentioned postgame, but it’s interesting to see where this group will go.
“We’re slowly working on things. We’ve been working on a little bit of video together, trying to get more familiar with each other,” Fehr said. “I think there’s a lot of ice for me out there with the way those guys play I seem to find myself open a lot. Definitely enjoy playing with those guys but we’ve got to keep working on things.”
Here’s Fehr’s first goal of the night, which all three players on the line contributed to.
2. Ice conditions. Never before in either covering or watching NHL games have I seen teams switch ends halfway through periods of an indoor game but that’s what happened Thursday night. The circus was in Tampa the week before and so a fresh sheet of ice was laid ahead of the contest between the Capitals and Lightning.
Apparently when it was installed, according to a Lightning spokesman, the goal crease was painted in the incorrect spot. Grubauer and the Capitals noticed things were askew in the morning skate.
“I got beat always at the blocker side and [goaltending coach] Olie [Kolzig] was saying my angles are a little bit off,” Grubauer said. “I didn’t notice it and did a couple drills with Neuvy and Holts after and they look at the net — it’s totally off. Tampa Bay practiced before us and they didn’t even notice it. It was kind of funny.”
So crews dug up the ice, corrected the alignment of the crease and tried to fill it in but there wasn’t enough time for the corrected area to freeze properly leading to a rough, uneven spot in front of the net the Capitals were set to defend twice. So both teams’ coaches and general managers met with the game’s officials and decided the teams would switch ends at a whistle nearest the 10 minute mark in each period.
Crews scraped the area down with shovels before warmups and continued to work on it at every opportunity during the contest and conditions improved greatly as the night went on.
“They ended up doing a great job on it, it was ugly,” Oates said. “You don’t want to have to postpone a game because of it, so I’m glad they fixed it and Grubi said he had no problem.”
Said Grubauer: “Felt like on a pond for a second. Warmup was terrible because it was so, so bumpy there was so much ice and they didn’t scrape it down. But before the game they did a pretty good job fixing it, so it wasn’t a huge deal at all.”
3. Green’s milestones. It hasn’t been the smoothest of seasons for the Capitals’ blueliner but Mike Green recorded a pair of milestones in the victory – his 200th career assist and 300th career point with a pair of assists against the Lightning. Both assists were from shots on net that his teammates were able to tip home – Grabovski’s tally and Fehr’s game winner. While he’s still one goal away from 100 in his career, Green was simply happy to see the Capitals win.
“It’s just a confidence thing. We’ll go into the next game confident and we’ll build off that,” Green said, adding that it was doubly important to rebound from coughing up the lead. “We’ve kind of had that happen to us a few times this season where they’ve come back and we haven’t been able to hold on to a lead. We made some few minor adjustments that had us come out and get the win because we didn’t sit back the whole game, we kept pushing.”
4. Johansson in front. Over the past several games, Marcus Johansson has had quality scoring chances, if not goals, from hanging around the crease on the power play. In Tampa, after receiving a pass from Nicklas Backstrom on the goal line he made a power move out to the front and stuffed a shot between Lindback’s pads. In Minnesota, he was in the right spot near the left post to retrieve a rebound from an Ovechkin shot and capitalize on the put back.
What’s funny is while Johansson’s goal against the Lightning is one of the many options on Washington’s power play it has rarely been successful. “That’s one of our reads but I think that’s our first goal in two years on that play,” Oates quipped.
Still, Johansson now has two goals in as many games and is making himself a more legitimate threat to be respected in the balance of the Capitals’ man advantage.
“Sometimes it’s just there and sometimes you have to take that. I didn’t see it go in but I’ll take that,” Johansson said. “We look at a lot of video and a lot of teams play us differently, sometimes that’s there, sometimes there’s something else open. You have to know your options.”
5. Toronto up. The Capitals will not hold a morning skate Friday ahead of the second half of these back-to-back games when they host a reeling Toronto squad. The Maple Leafs also played Thursday night, receiving a 6-1 shellacking by the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh. All six goals, which came on 36 shots by Carolina, were hung on Maple Leafs netminder James Reimer so it’s likely that the Capitals will face Jonathan Bernier at Verizon Center.
As for Washington’s goaltending rotation, Oates didn’t divulge a starter following the win in Tampa so that will have to wait until he meets with reporters again at 5 p.m.