|Recap: Capitals at Lightning by: Matt Witting October 23, 2001|
|The Capitals road woes continued in Tampa Bay as they played to another disappointing finish. Washington was unable to get the offense going with any sort of consistency and had to rely on stellar goaltending from backup Craig Billington to cover for a number of odd man breaks allowed by the team. The power play sputtered on the two chances it had while the penalty unit gave up an own goal that cost the Biller his shutout.
Overall, Tampa Bay deserves a ton of credit for their play tonight. This game was considered a litmus test for the Bolts and their performance indicates that they are for real. The Lightning played excellent defense, were dominant along the boards in both ends, hit hard and got tremendous goaltending from Nikolai Khabiboulin. Tampa's back checking was the difference in the game as it prevented the Capitals from generating the kind of rush needed to break through the smothering trap in the neutral zone. The Bolts forced the Caps into a score of turnovers in the neutral zone and along the Washington blue line, many of which resulted in odd man breaks. This was the kind of disciplined, physical game that few expected them to be able to put together against a supposedly superior foe.
On offense the Lightning showed flashes of brilliance, primarily when Modin and Lecavalier had the puck. Those two were able to keep the Capitals defenders off balance and generated a number of scoring chances around the net. They were able to cycle the puck effectively in the offensive zone, as were most of their team mates, and seemed to skate circles around the older Caps at times. Their one goal was a result of the hard work and effort that they put in. With Zubrus off for a dumb boarding call very late in the second period and the Capitals leading 1-0, Tampa's power play unit took over. Kubina passed along the blue line to Prospal who attempted a curl and drag to avoid the Capitals forward. The puck squirted off of Prospal's stick, though, and skittered between the skates of a Caps defender tangled with a Tampa forward near the left circle. Martin St. Louis picked up the puck in the deep slot, to the left of the goal and tried to saucer a pass through the crease to Andreychuk for an easy tap in goal (his trademark). Brendan Witt, trying to cover both players, put his stick on the ice to deflect the puck and tipped it past the Biller for the tying goal. Andreychuk would have easily scored were it not for the deflection, so Brendan doesn't deserve much criticism, but it was a lousy goal to give up with only 27 seconds left in the period.
The Capitals, on the other hand, were never able to get their cycling game going in the offensive zone, primarily because they rarely had possession in the offensive zone before the overtime period. Washington was unable to break down the Tampa trap and did not execute the dump and chase very well. They did get a couple of good chances on nice outlet passes by Gonchar, but got trapped along the boards seemingly every time. Jagr's knee was obviously bothering him as he had no speed and took many short shifts. The one bright spot in the Capitals offense was Dainus Zubrus who has turned into one of the better play makers on the team. Early in the second he took a pass from Zettler behind the net and made a strong circle move around the left faceoff dot towards the crease. He spotted Nikolishin cutting in and dropped the puck perfectly to Niko who slammed it past Khabiboulin (thanks in part to a Linden screen) for the only Washington goal. Zubrus was very effective with the puck and had a couple of great shots, albeit from tight angles.
The best Caps chances came in the first minute of play and the overtime period. Only twenty seconds into the game Halpern got a loose puck, cut through the slot and shot as he was being dragged down. Khabiboulin displayed his incredible reflexes and gloved the puck, keeping Halpie in his slump. In OT Reekie had a shot at an empty net from the blueline but took too long to settle the puck and Khabiboulin was able to recover to make the save. Cote also had a great chance from a sharp angle, but fired the puck into the goalie's chest protector. The few chances the Caps generated in the game were wiped out by brilliant play in net.
The Caps only took 21 shots for the game, three of which were in the overtime, a very low total for the second straight game. This is primarily due to their ongoing problems moving the puck through the neutral zone and controlling it into the offensive zone. Passes aren't crisp and only a couple of skaters seem to be attacking. Another factor is that, also for the second straight game, the Caps only had two power play chances, less than half of what Tampa or Philly got. This imbalance needs to be worked on as the penalty killers, great though they were tonight, cannot be asked to shoulder that much of the burden.
Overall it was a very disappointing evening. The Capitals just don't look in sync, probably due to the absence of Johansson and Konowalchuk combined with the sheer number of miles travelled lately. Hopefully they can recover in time to face the rough and tumble Florida Panthers tomorrow.