Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hats Off To Semin! Caps Win 6th Straight, Zap Bolts: Capitals 6-3 Lightning

The Washington Capitals did exactly what they needed to do last night, win a divisional game in regulation. This was the Caps 6th straight victory and they have propelled themselves to the top of the Southeast Division, and the NHL with a 12-4-0 record, and now lead the Southeast division by 6 points, and the NHL by just 2.

As usual, the Capitals came out with a somewhat off first period, appearing to yield the edge in play to the Lightning, and once again allowing the opposing team to score first. It is becoming such a regular occurrence, that it almost appears to be built into their game plan: come out flat, give up the first goal or two, let the other team get a little comfortable, then lower the boom. I'm still not sold on this though, especially against such a potent team as the Tampa Bay Lightning with Rocket Richard winning, and current NHL goal scoring leader Steven Stamkos. Last night, this game could have easily been been two or 3-0 in the Bolts favor in the first period had it not been for Michael Neuvirth's best friends, the goal posts. Neuvirth did have a hand in it as well though, stopping 38 shots last night. This was the first of 6 games between the two teams this season, in what is sure to become a heated battle for the division title this year, and for years to come as both clubs are continuing to improve while the rest of the division remains average or below.

Photo by Clyde Caplan,
The big story from Verizon Center last night however was not Stamkos, or even Alex Ovechkin, it was once again Alexander Semin who turned in his 5th career hat trick, 2nd in 9 games, and scored 5 points on the night, good for earning the NHL's #1 star for the night. 4 of his 5 hat tricks have come against Southeast Division teams. Semin is scoring at a torrid pace and is now with 7 goals, 6 assists in his last 6 games, and is in second place for the Richard trophy so far this season behind only Stamkos with 12 goals, 9 assists, for 21 points. Stamkos has 14 goals, and 26 points. Here are all 3 of Semin's goals.

photo: Nick Wass /AP
However the show was not to begin for the Caps until the second period, as Washington was shut out for the first 20 minutes of play last night. The Caps came out in the second with what appeared to be quite a bit more energy, and finally started to push back, get some chances, and dominate the play in stretches. As has been often the case the Caps also got some offence from the defence last night as well. Defencemen Tom Poti in his first game back from a long 11 game injury hiatus opened the scoring with nice backhand shot on a rebound from a shot Alex Semin from the opposite side. Mike Knuble got the Caps second tally with a great effort while standing virtually BEHIND the Bolts net. The Caps came down the ice on a 2 on 4, and somehow Brooks Laich ended up in front of the Tampa net almost alone. Steven Stamkos bothered Laich enough that he did not get a full shot off and it slithered just wide of a half empty net, but somehow, Knuble while moving from side to side behind the the goal line, and net, AND, being bothered by Pavel Kubina, got his stick on it and got it to go in the net.

photo: Nick Wass /AP
However it was the big 3 that really racked up the points last night combining for 12 total, with Semin's 5 points, Backstorm's 4, and Ovechkin's 3.The third period was the Caps, and Alexander Semins show. Semin got all 3 of his goals in the final frame, and it was 3/4ths of the Caps output for the period.  To the Lightning's credit, they never fully folded, coming back to tie the game twice. The caps were also good on the special teams again last night allowing only 1 power play goal in 5 Lightning chances, while scoring 1 power play goal themselves in the two chances they were given. The Caps improved power play is now ranked 7th in the NHL, while the PK has moved up to 12th.  Also of note last night was Tampa Bay's Vincent Lecavalier, who did not return to the game for the third period and was a non factor in last nights game. It was announced after the game that Lecavalier had suffered a non displaced fracture in his right hand, and will be sidelined for 3-4 weeks. As usual, here is Bruce Boudreau's post game presser:

Hopefully all of this can continue for the Caps over what is going to be a busy weekend for them when they come up against two lesser teams. First up is the struggling Buffalo Sabres in Buffalo on Saturday night who have not won a game on their home ice yet this season, then its back home to Verizon Center for another Southeast Division tilt against the third place Atlanta Thrashers Sunday afternoon. The Caps play the Sabres twice in the next 5 days. With the way the Caps are playing of late, there really is no reason this winning streak cannot extend to 9 games, however the Caps must be ready, especially for Buffalo as they are likely going to be hungry to give the hometown crowd its first taste of victory at HSBC Arena.


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Which team is the Capitals biggest threat in the Southeast division this season?