"I don't know if it was perfect, but it's as good as we've played all year." Coach Bruce Boudreau
THE RESULT: The Washington Capitals played a full sixty-minute game against their closest competitor in the Southeast Division, shutting out the Tampa Bay Lightning 6-0, before another sellout at Verizon Center.
The win gives the Caps 34 points this season (16-6-2), and stretches the Capitals lead in the Southeast to six points and wrests the conference lead back from Philadelphia by one point.
The holiday crowd was treated to the Capitals most complete effort of the season. Six goals scored. None allowed. Opponent limited to 17 shots. NHL goal scoring leader held to one shot. Even the lone fight was a domination by a player wearing a red sweater.
Alexander Semin continued his hot hand in his contract season, registering a hat trick in a 4:29 span of the second period. He tallied on a two-on-one with Marcus Johansson and banged home two power play goals off similar back door feeds from Nicklas Backstrom to break things wide open.
It was Semin's third hat trick this season and the sixth in his career.
Semin's total of 17 goals so far this season puts him four behind Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos, who was held to just one shot on goal tonight.
John Carlson and Karl Alzner drew the lion's share of guarding Tampa's top line of Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Steve Downie, and held the prolific trio to a combined four shots.
Coach Bruce Boudreau assessed the play of his rookie blue-liners: "For 21, 22-year old guys, having the duty of shutting down that line, they did a good job. And Carly, adds that offensive element as well. I thought he was at his best tonight."
“We just got outworked today, plain and simple.” said Stamkos, the NHL’s leading scorer. “There’s nothing more to say.”
Carlson was modest talking about his performance after the game. "My legs weren't as good as I would like them to be, but I felt that I was pretty good, in position the whole time and stayed out of trouble. So I guess it was a good game."
Three defensemen scored the other three Capitals goals, with Carlson, John Erskine and Tom Poti denting the twine. Washington now has three defensemen with three or more goals, the same number it had all of last season.
And oh by the way, Semyon Varlamov stopped all 17 shots he faced for his third career regular season shut out.
Captain Alex Ovechkin did not score, but assisted on both power play goals and had three hits early, setting a tone. "We played good defensively. Power play works good. PK did an unbelievable job. I think we play a good 60 minutes."
The penalty kill did do an unbelievable job, killing off all five power plays, including a five-on-three of just over one minute, and the resulting minute of five-on-four. "When you score a couple on the power play and you kill a five-on-three, I thought it was a good game by us," Boudreau told the assembled media.
It was something of a statement game, considering how the week started for Washington, getting shut out by New Jersey and playing a pretty good game in Carolina. Tampa Bay came in hot and the Caps took a physical game to them early, then put the hammer to them in the middle stanza. The Lightning played the third period like they just couldn't wait to get on the bus out of Verizon Center.
Stamkos probably said it best from the Tampa Bay locker room: "I thought we were soft all over the ice today. You can't expect to win, especially against a team like that."
Tampa coach Guy Boucher was even more damning. "Work ethic wasn't there. It'd be easy to point some fingers as some guys but the reality is we need to point the fingers at every player that was there. We got outworked. We got outplayed."
Sounds a lot like what Boudreau was saying after Monday's loss to the Devils. What a difference a few days makes in the NHL.
THE GOOD: Lots to go around. Semin. Carlson. Varlamov. Marcus Johansson with two assists. Backstrom with two assists. The Caps scored six goals and no one was more than plus-two. That's a total team effort against a young, up and coming Tampa Bay team.
THE BAD: Um... David Steckel was the only Capital with a face-off percentage over 50%? Does that count?
THE UGLY: Nothing. It was a pretty win.
THE STATS: Carlson (3) from Johansson (1) at 3:09 of 1st. Erskine (3) from Fahey (1) at 4:38 of 2nd. Semin (15) from Johansson (2) at 6:52 of 2nd. Semin (16) from Backstrom (16) and Ovechkin (20) at 8:56 of 2nd (PP). Semin (17) from Backstrom (17) and Ovechkin (21) at 11:21 of 2nd (PP). Poti (2) from Hendricks (5) at 14:46 of 3rd.
NEXT GAME: Sunday at 5:00 pm against Carolina Hurricanes at Verizon Center.
CAPS NEWS NETWORK THREE STARS
3. John Erskine. Assist short of the Gordie Howe Hat Trick. His goal, the second of the game, came at 2:05 of the second and led to the floodgates opening.
2. John Carlson. His goal opened the scoring, and he and Karl Alzner held Steven Stamkos to one shot on goal.
1. Alexander Semin. Hard to argue with the natural hat trick. Three goals in a 4:28 span of the second period busted this one wide open.
Ovechkin is now tied with St. Louis for third in the league in assists. Yup, you read that right.
With the win, the Caps upper their league-leading home record to 11-1-1. Fahey's assist was his first NHL point. Johansson's first assist was his first NHL assist.