For the majority of the early part of this season, all the talk about the Washington Capitals has focused on whether or not they can consistently put forth 60 minute efforts. Those concerns became even greater after the Capitals suffered consecutive humiliating 5-0 road loses last week in a span of four days.
However, last night at Verizon Center, it was the Capitals who were on the winning end of a lopsided contenst.
Alexander Semin recorded his third hat trick of the season, this one a natural hat trick, while John Carlson, John Erskine and Tom Poti also added goals. Semyon Varlamov turned away all 17 shots he faced to collect his third career regular-season shutout as the Capitals easily defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning, 6-0.
The win was the Capitals second of the season over there Southeast division rivals; the Capitals defeated the Lightning in the teams’ first meeting of the season on Nov 11, 6-3, at Verizon Center. The win also pushed the Capitals lead in the Southeast division to six points.
The hat trick was Semin’s third of the season and came in a span of 35 days. It was also his second of the season against the Lightning, and came in a span of just 4:29 seconds in the second period as the Capitals scored four goals in the second period, the first coming from Erskine, in a span of seven shots.
Semin scored on a 2 on 1 break on a pass from rookie center Marcus Johannson at 6:52 of the second period, then tallied twice on the power play goals on passes from Nicklas Backstrom just two minutes and 25 seconds apart.
"I haven’t changed anything and I’m not going to change anything," said Semin when asked about having three hat tricks at this point in the season. "I’m playing like I usually play and I don’t see anything wrong with it and I’m just going to continue doing the same thing."
Semin’s third goal came on a 5 on 3 where Backstrom had to make a difficult pass to set up the scoring chance. With a Tampa Bay defender stretched out in front of the net leaving little room between his skate and Lightning goaltender Dan Ellis, Backstrom forced the pass through where Semin, from basically the goaline put the puck in the upper right corner of the net for a 5-0 Capitals advantage. It wsa the second time on the 5 on 3 that Backstrom attempted the cross ice pass to Semin.
"The second time I was waiting for it," said Semin of the pass from Backstrom. "I’m glad it worked out for him, but I was waiting for it."
The Capitals gave up just 17 shots, were 2 for 4 on the power play and killed all five Lightning power play chances.
"I don’t know if it was perfect, but it’s as good as we’ve played all year," said Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau. "When you score a couple on the power play and you kill a 5 on 3, I thought it was a good game by us."
The win was the Capitals second straight after a three game losing streak. Washington was blown out in Atlanta last Friday, then after a 5-4 shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday were humiliated in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, 5-0, by a Devils team that had lost three straight entering the contest.
"I think anytime you play a bad game you play a bad game," said Capitals defensemen John Carlson. "There’s really no other way of looking at it. A good game like this and a good bounce back the last two games, we’re feeling pretty good about ourselves."
Carlson got the scoring started just 3:09 into the game on a slap shot from the point after a face off win by Johannson. The goal was Carlson’s third of the season.
After the Capitals killed consecutive Tampa Bay power plays early in the second period, Erskine notched his third goal of the season on a shot from the point that hit Lightning netminder Mike Smith in his left shoulder then bounced into the net at 4:38.
"I think mine went up high and I don’t know if I hit him in the right spot or not," said Erskine of his tally. "It might have hurt him and just bounced in behind him. But, from then on we just kept going to the net and shooting pucks at him."
The Capitals held the Lightning to just six shots in the third period, and no goals, one game after allowing the Carolina Hurricanes to overcome a two goal third period deficit.
"We knew they were going to come hard in the third and give it one last push," said Erskine when asked about the third period. "We shut them down."