Photo: Andre Ringuette/Getty Images
While the Washington Capitals fell to the Tampa Bay Lightning by a score of 3-2 in a shootout in their first round-robin tournament game to determine Stanley Cup Playoff seeding in the Eastern Conference, there were plenty of good things to take away from the game. The Capitals did not move up or down from where they entered the tournament as they are currently third in the Eastern Conference. Here are some key takeaways from the shootout loss:
Second Period Still A Strength – The Capitals came to life midway through the second after the Lightning outshot them 17-9 to start the game. As has been the case all season, the Capitals got better as the game went on as they scored both of their goals and outshot the Lightning 12-8 after a slow start. Their 71 second-period goals were tied for 13th during the regular season.
Braden Holtby – The 30-year-old made 26 saves and kept the team afloat while the Lightning were outplaying the Capitals in the first half of the game. After he had the worst regular-season in his career with an .897 save percentage and a 3.11 goals-against average, the Capitals needed Holtby to step up, especially with Ilya Samsonov (pinched nerve) out for the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He finished the game with a .929 save percentage.
No Penalties – After the Capitals were among the most undisciplined teams during the regular season, they did not give the high-powered a single power-play throughout the game. The Lightning’s 23.1% power-play percentage during the regular season was tied with the Vancouver Canucks for fifth while they were first with a 3.47 goals-per-game average. Not taking any penalties is a good strategy to beat them, and the Capitals still got a point in the round-robin tournament.
Comeback – The Capitals’ comeback ability did not go away during the NHL pause as they rallied from down two to force the Lightning into a shootout. They had plenty of chances to win it in the third period but just could not bury it. Their .423 winning percentage after trailing heading into the second period was second in the NHL during the regular season (Dallas Stars: .440). Teams are going have to prepare for the Capitals’ killer instinct during the postseason.
Dmitry Orlov – The 29-year-old defenseman had a solid game against the Lightning once again. He finished the game with an assist, a +1 rating, two shots, no giveaways, and replaced defenseman John Carlson on the top power-play unit. That was all while playing a team-high 27:53 against the Lightning – no one else played 21:30. The Capitals needed someone to step up on defense with Carlson out, and Orlov definitely did.
Strong Net-Front Presence – Both of the Capitals’ goals came at the goal-mouth, which they will have to do to score goals during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, especially against goalies like Andrei Vasilevskiy. Both forward Richard Panik and center Evgeny Kuznetsov went to the front of the net and poked home loose pucks to get the Capitals back in the game. Those are the type of goals that the team will have to score this time of year. The Capitals outshot the Lightning 33-28 for the game.
Slow Start – The Capitals fell behind 2-0 and were outshot 17-9 to start the game. Of course, it will take time to get to the top of their game. Still, they likely cannot afford to start slow against tournament opponents, especially teams like the Lightning, because they will all be desperate, and teams play stingier defensively during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Did Not Take Advantage Of High-Danger Chances – The Capitals outshot the Lightning 11-8 during the third period but could not find the back of the net. Of course, some of that had to do with Vasilevskiy’s reliable performance, but they had to make life harder on him, especially during the first half of the game. The Capitals had six high-danger chances and limited the Lightning to just one and posted a 76.68% expected goal-for percentage in the third period, according to Natural StatTrick. They finished the game with a 53.6% expected goal-for rate. In all situations, the Capitals were expected to win 4-2, according to MoneyPuck.
Giveaways – The Capitals gave away the puck 13 times while the Lightning did so five, which you cannot do a lot against a strong transition team like the Lightning. Defenseman Nick Jensen led the way with three giveaways while forward T.J. Oshie and Kuznetsov each had two. The three gave away the puck more than all of the Lightning did by two. While playing against the Eastern Conference’s best competition, the Capitals must be better with the puck.
John Carlson Injury More Serious Than Initially Thought – The 30-year-old defenseman missed the Capitals’ round-robin opener due to an undisclosed injury. He left the Capitals’ 3-2 win in exhibition play against the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday late after crashing into the boards. The most important thing is that he is healthy by the time the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs begins, but the fact that Carlson had to miss a game was concerning. He did practice with the team over the weekend, however. The Capitals next face the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday, so Carlson will have a bit of time to rest up.
The Capitals and Lightning are two teams that are currently equal in many ways. Playing on a neutral track just exemplified the fact. The two teams will likely continue to alternate wins.
By Harrison Brown