So, the Tampa Bay Lightning may not be quite ready to make the leap to becoming an elite team.
The Lightning came into their late afternoon tilt with the Washington Capitals in the District having won five consecutive games and were within four points of the Capitals for first place in the Southeast Division. Tampa Bay came into the game with 28 points; the Capitals, 32.
The Capitals, of course, have won the Southeast for past three years, and the Lightning have missed the playoffs the past three seasons. But Steve Yzerman was hired in May to be the general manager and Guy Boucher was hired in June to be head coach, both bringing increased credibility and respectability to Tampa Bay.
Fast forward to before Friday’s game and Tampa Bay is all over the National Hockey League’s offensive leader boards. Steven Stamkos leads the league in points with 38 and in goals with 21. Martin St. Louis is tied for third in the league in points with 29, and is also third in assists with 21. Tampa Bay was fifth in the league in goals per game at 3.18 coming into the game Friday, and was third in the league in power play efficiency at 25.2 percent.
Coming into play against the Capitals, the Lightning had won their past five games by a combined score of 22-14. A win in Washington would have moved them to within two points of the Capitals.
But Tampa Bay got blitzed by a score of 6-0.
Granted, there’s only so much one can take from a late November bout between any two teams, and realistically, nothing of substance can be won at this time of year. But this game felt a little different than a typical regular season game – it felt like the Lightning have a lot of work to do before they catch up with the Capitals. Granted, Washington may have played their best game of the year. And perhaps if St. Louis had buried a breakaway opportunity about halfway through the first period, the result of this game would have been different. Maybe if Tampa Bay converts on one of their two power play opportunities to begin the second period, the game bears a different result. Even so, this game felt like a statement game on behalf of the Capitals.
John Carlson started off the scoring with a rip off a faceoff win by Marcus Johansson, which touched off a wide open first period with saw each side showing off their team speed, but after St. Louis’s prime opportunity in the first period, the Lightning were completely shut down. For the game, Tampa Bay had just 17 shots on goal and was 0-for-5 on power play opportunities. And once the Lightning was unable to convert on those two power plays early in the second, they were just outclassed.
John Erskine scored from the point to begin the scoring in the second and Alexander Semin scored a natural hat trick in the second frame. The Lightning had no answer for the Capitals’ high-end talents such as Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. Semin scored all three times by finishing off three high-quality passing efforts – his first goal, off a cross-ice saucer pass by Johansson, and the other two times on the power play off ridiculous passes by Backstrom. Ovechkin had the secondary assist on each power play goal by Semin. The Capitals went 2-for-4 on the power play.
And the quarterback of the power play, Mike Green, wasn’t even playing.
Mike Smith was pulled in the second period, but not particularly because Smith was extremely poor – Semin scored his first two goals on Smith, both of which Smith had no chance on (although the Erskine goal seemed of questionable quality.) Dan Ellis entered the game at the 8:56 mark of the second period, and gave up two goals during his time in net.
While the Capitals’ big guns soared, the Tampa Bay’s did not. Stamkos had one shot on goal; St. Louis, two; and Ryan Malone, one. Dominic Moore, a free agent acquisition this summer, had the most shots of anyone on the Lightning with three. And, obviously, Tampa Bay could not once find the back of the net.
Again, a regular season game means very little. But while the Capitals only lead the Southeast by six points, the gap looked much wider than that on Friday.