It IS About How You Start (Lightning-Caps recap, 12.23.16)

WASHINGTON – After having a day off and facing a team that was in town after playing just 24 hours prior, the Washington Capitals knew that the best way to put themselves in a position to win tonight was to jump on the weary-legged Tampa Bay Lightning early.

If that was the case, then scoring 55 seconds into the contest would be considered the perfect start. John Carlson scored two goals on the night, his first coming less than a minute into the contest as the Capitals snapped a two-game losing streak with a 4-0 shutout over the Tampa Bay Lightning to close out the pre-Christmas portion of the schedule. Scoring a goal less than a minute in was the start to the perfect first third of the game, as Carlson scored off a feed off of Marcus Johansson at 15:42 of the period to double the Caps lead late in the first.

Knowing that Tampa Bay probably wasn’t at its strongest after its win 24 hours prior in central Florida against the St. Louis Blues, the Capitals dominated the first period in all facets, as they only allowed two shots on goal to the Lightning on their way to outshooting them 9-2 in the first period.

“I think the schedule helped us a little bit,” said Capitals manager Barry Trotz after the team’s fourth shutout of the season. “The Lightning played last night, and it wasn’t a short trip [to come to Washington]. We jumped on them early. I thought we gave them nothing in the first. They had a little push early in the second, and I thought we took it back from them. We had a couple of big penalty kills when the game was still in doubt, and that was it.”

Three of the four goals for the Capitals – the first three to be specific – all were either scored or set up by defensemen. Midway through the second period, blueliner Dmitry Orlov lofted a pass high into the Verizon Center air from his defensive zone, with the puck finding Alexander Ovechkin in stride near the Lightning blue line. On the breakaway, Ovechkin beat Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy for his 15th goal of the season to give Washington a 3-0 lead and a comfortable cushion that it would enjoy for the rest of the game.

As for Carlson, he doubled his scoring tally for the season with his game tonight, as well as scored his first goals at home this season.

“It’s big for [Carlson] and big for us,” Trotz said. “He’s pretty important for us in the back end. We want to get our offense from our back end, which we’ve always had. It’s starting to come there.”

Unlike last night, when the Lightning came back from a slow start and a two-goal first period deficit to defeat the Blues 5-2, the legs didn’t seem to be under the squad, especially after going down in the game so quickly. Also, the team was playing shorthanded, which seems as if it has done so almost all season long; Center and team captain Steven Stamkos and winger Nikita Kucherov were missing once again due to injury, as well as goaltender Ben Bishop.

“It’s tough to go into the Christmas break like this because we’ve really made some positive strides here in the last three weeks,” said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper. Our margin for error now to push ourselves in the playoffs, we’ve kind of used it all up. Any time you lose a hockey game, it just puts that much more pressure to win the next one. Hopefully we can get some guys healthy and come back and amp it up after the break.”

Washington certainly will feel much better going into the break, going into it winning six of its last eight games. After three days off, the Capitals will end 2016 with a game in Brooklyn against the Islanders on Dec. 27, then a home-and-home with the New Jersey Devils.

“Getting a shutout going into the break, The next three days will be real good,” said Trotz. “We don’t have to worry about thinking about our last loss, which coaches do, and we’ll enjoy the time off.”

[Cover photo (John Carlson) courtesy of Patrick Smith/Getty Images]

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