Vincent Lecavalier extended his league lead to five goals with his 38th and 39th last night against the Washington Capitals. Lecavalier didn't score in the shootout, but Tampa Bay earned the extra point regardless when teammate Martin St. Louis did.
The Capitals opened the scoring at 9:07 of the first period when Tampa Bay's Dan Boyle was charged with a holding penalty. On the ensuing face off to the right of Lightning goaltender Marc Denis, Alexander Semin took a clean draw from Dainius Zubrus at the top of the circle, took one stride towards the middle of the slot, and let go a wrist shot on Denis. Lightning defenseman Nolan Pratt attempted to block the shot with his stick, but only succeeded in deflecting the puck past his goaltender and giving Semin his 30th goal of the season.
Lecavalier leveled the teams at one each with a power play goal of his own at 2:44 of the second period. Tampa Bay's captain took a pass from Boyle in the high slot and fired it past Brent Johnson. It was Boyle's 210th point making him the all-time leading scorer for Lightning defensemen.
Vinny's second goal was actually all Martin St. Louis. The diminutive right winger dug the puck away from several Capitals' players on the fore check and saucered a pass to the wide open Lecavalier. Lecavalier's one-timer beat Johnson short-side and the Lightning had their first lead of the game at 2-1, on a short-handed marker at 7:05 of the second period.
It stayed that way for the rest of the second and almost all of the third period. Washington peppered goaltender Denis with shots in the third, but it was the sixteenth shot of the period that finally beat him with just fifteen seconds remaining in regulation. An uncharacteristic giveaway from Lecavalier in his own zone, resulted in Zubrus grabbing the loose puck in the slot and firing home his 20th of the season. The unassisted goal was his Dainius' second point of the game, and allowed Washington to earn the point that they fought so hard for in the third.
Overtime would solve nothing as both Johnson and Denis turned away all of the shots that they faced (Washington - 3, Tampa Bay - 4). Both goaltenders would be good in the shootout as well, but Denis was one better. After the four shooters before him had missed, St. Louis fired his penalty shot high blocker-side to beat Johnson and put the pressure squarely on Matt Pettinger's shoulders for the last shot. Pettinger made a good move but Denis dove back into the net to stop the shot and give Tampa the win and valuable second point.
The loss was the Capitals' eleventh in the last twelve road games, and earning single points just isn't going to be quite good enough this late in the season. Washington now sits nine points back of a playoff spot with just 24 games to go. With four teams ahead of them also vying for that last playoff spot, the next two weeks should be very interesting in Washington. The trade deadline is February 27th and with every point dropped between now and then, the Capitals move closer to the selling side of the ledger than the buying side.
Players like Zubrus and Richard Zednik will be unrestricted free agents at the end of the season, and if a playoff spot isn't much closer by the deadline, these types of players can bring some more young talent to the Capitals as teams jockey to augment their rosters. This is the time of year where teams look at their respective units and see if they can be tweaked with some late season additions to make a run at Lord Stanley's Cup, but often it is at the price of the youth in their stables. That might be to Washington's advantage if they decide that the playoffs are a pipe dream. Besides, both Caps players could conceivably be dealt at the end of the month only to find themselves back in Washington next season, as both will be free to sign with anyone at the end of the season.
Defensemen Bryan Muir and Jamie Heward are two more veterans that could also find themselves on the block. Washington has a glut of blue-liners with Muir, John Erskine and Bryan Pothier all returning from injuries. They sent prospect Mike Green back to Hershey this week, presumably because they needed to make some room and Green could go back without having to clear waivers.
Washington has five more games left before the deadline. Their next two games are on the road against the red hot Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday, and the Montreal Canadians on Tuesday, before heading back home to face the tough San Jose Sharks on Wednesday. As daunting as it seems, anything less than six points in those three games and the team would be much better suited spending the rest of February testing the trade waters.