Thursday, November 11, 2010, 10:49 p.m.
By Joe Beninati
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It may sound strange, but I was looking forward to this game tonight because I thought it would be a good measuring stick for the Capitals. That's right I said the Capitals, who with a 12-4 mark sit on top of the Eastern Conference. My reason for thinking this way was generated by so much conversation around the league that says the Caps will have much less breathing room this season in the Southeast Division. Tampa Bay is believed to be a serious threat this winter, and from what I witnessed tonight, they're an improved team, but Washington still has the goods on them.
When these teams collide there's a great deal of firepower on the ice. Steven Stamkos is a treat to watch. His skating speed is amazing, and he's able to make plays at top speed - a skill that surely sets him apart from the rest, and oh by the way, his shot maybe one of the very best in the NHL. Martin St. Louis is a gifted playmaker and an extraordinary passer of the puck. Vincent LeCavalier is another dangerous member of the Lightning, whose come-back effort tonight was hampered by his not appearing in the third period. Reports from the event level at Verizon Center spotted him wearing some sort of brace or cast on his hand that was aggravated during tonight's clash.
Tampa Bay's new-look defenders received an eyeful from the Caps most dangerous weapons. Bruce Boudreau began the night with Mike Knuble working on the wing with Nick Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. By game's end, Alex Semin was part of that top trio, and the Bolts had no success stopping them.
Tampa Bay took the lead on Teddy Purcell's rebound goal in the opening period. It turned out to be another dormant first frame for Washington which was attempting to solve another Lightning newcomer, Dan Ellis, in goal.
The tempo was much quicker in the second period and that worked in Washington's favor. Tom Poti chipped a backhand past Ellis to knot the score at 2:21 of the second. Knuble would give the Capitals the lead some five and-a-half minutes later with his second goal in as many games.
Michal Neuvirth was getting stronger as the game went along and finished with 38 stops to lead the team to victory. The 1 star of the game however, was Alex Semin. He took over in the third period. His willingness to battle for loose pucks and hustle on defense, at the moment, is the best that I can remember from him. He was the finest player on the ice in the last 20 minutes, without a doubt.
His second hat trick of the season was part of a four-goal final frame that separated Washington from its Sunshine State guests. Semin scored one with his lethal wrist shot, another with a slapshot blast that nicked a defender and glanced into the net at 100MPH, and the capper came with Ellis on the bench in the dying seconds of the game. His five points for the night meshed perfectly with Backstrom's four assists and Ovechkin's goal and two-assist performance. When those three men get rolling, few defenders in the league can contain them.
The Caps answered the challenge well this evening. Once more they continued to improve the further the game went in regulation and their finishing kick is putting teams away.
We'll see how that translates to the game Saturday in Buffalo, where the Sabres hope to have Ryan Miller back in goal. The league's 1 offensive attack won't make it easy for him if he's ready to return.