WASHINGTON, D.C. — It was an interesting showdown for the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning, one that featured physicality as both teams squared off for the first time since August 2020. In the end, the two-time Cup champions escaped with a 2-1 overtime victory.
Here are takeaways from the action:
Alex Ovechkin Stays Hot
Ovechkin was by far the Capitals’ top player. He opened the scoring with a quick snapshot in front that beat Andrei Vasilevskiy in the second period. He almost had his second goal of the game soon after, but it was overturned because it didn’t cross the goal line.
Overall, he registered a whopping eight shots (marking the 153rd time in his career that he’s done so), two hits and two takeaways while leading all forwards in TOI (23:43). He has three goals in his last two games and is now nine away from passing Brett Hull for No. 4 on the NHL all-time goals list.
Head coach Peter Laviolette said he’s noticed more from the captain to start the season. He also praised the top line as a whole, which laid on physicality, generated a lot of pressure in the offensive zone and showed off some crafty playmaking.
“Really good. You know, he’s certainly moving better and you know, you can tell that he had a good training camp, good summer and everything was just a bit off last year. Still had a good year last year, but you can see the jump this year and just looks like he’s moving better. And when you’re moving better, you’re getting into spaces and you find chances… he looks good,” Laviolette said. “You got to give some credit to his linemates too. Kuzy’s been outstanding. Tom is Tom, he’s the bull on the line, he does a real good job.”
Vitek Vanecek Comes Up Big
Vanecek was one of the biggest reasons the Capitals were able to get away with a point. While Washington played a solid game, they did hand Tampa a handful of high-danger chances. The Bolts saw their stars lay on the pressure, crash the crease and even go on semi-breaks off turnovers, but Vanecek stood his ground.
The 25-year-old, who got the nod yet again after a sensational season opener, stopped 22 of 24 shots (.917 save percentage) and made major saves on Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Corey Perry and more. Even when he was down in the crease, he was able to track the puck well and didn’t give up on plays.
“He’s been really solid. I think we gave up a few too many grade-A chances to them tonight and without him, it could have been a different game,” Justin Schultz said.
Vanecek’s stop on Hedman: pic.twitter.com/V27QuUBugO
— Sammi Silber (@sammi_silber) October 17, 2021
Vanecek is now 1-0-1 with a .938 save percentage and 1.50 GAA to open the season.
Power Play Struggles
The Capitals had quite a few power-play opportunities, including a 4-on-3 late in overtime. However, they couldn’t convert, going 0-for-4. The chances were there, though — they made strong passes and had a couple of high-quality looks, and ended up recording seven shots on net on the man advantage.
“We have lots of chances, but we don’t execute,” Ovechkin explained, adding, “It’s all about us. They know how to play and that’s why they two Stanley Cup champs. They’re a pretty good team… we don’t give them much, they don’t give us much. Overall, I think it was a good game.”
Stamkos also gave credit to Tampa’s penalty kill.
“[Power plays] can be momentum shifters in a game. It certainly was tonight,” Stamkos said. “That’s one of the best power-play groups in the league, and they had a couple chances to win the game late and our PK guys blocking shots, Vasy was great, so hats off to them.”
Laviolette liked what he saw from the special teams, acknowledging that they were able to get some momentum not just on the PP, but the PK as well.
- Stick taps to Lars Eller, who played in his 800th NHL game. He’s the second Danish player to reach that milestone, joining Frans Nielsen.
- Martin Fehervary led Washington with four blocked shots, a career-high.
- Trevor van Riemsdyk picked up a helper on Ovechkin’s goal and now has points in back-to-back games to kick off 2021-22.
- The Carl Hagelin-Nic Dowd-Garnet Hathaway impressed yet again, as Dowd led the Capitals with a faceoff-percentage of 73. Hathaway also mustered three shots on net. Said Laviolette: “They were excellent. They generated some chances so they certainly did their job. They compete so hard out there. Like I said, it’s not just about defense, they do a good job of getting into the offensive zone… it’s not like they rose to the occasion tonight, this is kind of consistent for them and what they do.”
- Tom Wilson was laying on the physicality and led the team with four hits. He had a couple of big ones on Nikita Kucherov and Ryan McDonagh.
- Evgeny Kuznetsov continues to look stellar. He was effective in safely and creatively carrying the puck off-ice and generated several opportunities. He ended the night with three shots and one takeaway while winning 47 percent of his draws.
- Kucherov left the game in the third period after taking a hit from Garnet Hathaway. He appeared to be laboring as he made his way to the bench and did not return. Jan Rutta was also injured and didn’t return. Ryan McDonagh got clipped up high but returned after going off for repairs.
- It was a quiet night for Hendrix Lapierre in his second game, but he showed flashes of speed and got a couple of good looks. He also did a solid job on the backcheck, engaging in puck battles and forcing turnovers to get the puck out of the zone. He recorded one block in 9:51 minutes on the ice, and also logged 2:25 at 5-on-4.
- Dennis Cholowski, who arrived in D.C. on Friday afternoon, took part in warm-ups, saying it would give him a feel for the ice at Capital One Arena.