WASHINGTON — With a listless performance unbefitting the team with NHL’s best record, Tampa Bay failed to display its standard work ethic in a loss to the Washington Capitals
At least that’s how coach Jon Cooper saw it.
“How do I describe this? I think we believe we’re a little bit better than we are,” Cooper said after the 3-1 loss Friday night. “There’s a reason we have the record that we have — because we’ve worked to get there.”
Tampa Bay (16-4-2) is off to the best start in franchise history, but this week lost to the New York Islanders, needed a rally to beat Chicago and then went the final 58 1/2 minutes without a goal against Washington.
Devante Smith-Pelly put the Capitals up 2-1 in the second period, flicking home the rebound of a shot by Jay Beagle from the left circle.
That would be last puck to get past Andrei Vasilevskiy, who finished with 36 saves.
“It’s tough when your goaltender is your star and you still lose the game,” Cooper said. “I just don’t know if we’re putting in that same kind of effort, that urgency, that determination that got us off to the start that we did.”
Alex Ovechkin scored his 15th goal and Philipp Grubauer stopped 25 shots to earn his first victory of the season and help the Capitals end Tampa Bay’s six-game road winning streak.
Beagle clinched the victory, scoring into an empty net with 2:08 to go.
Like Cooper, Washington coach Barry Trotz understands that benefit of hard work.
“If we put in the work night in and night out, we will have success. If we don’t, we won’t,” Trotz said. “This league will test you. You can’t cut corners.
Ovechkin’s second goal in two games followed a six-game drought. His resurgence comes after Trotz placed Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom on the same line Wednesday night for the first time this season.
The Lightning couldn’t find a way to snap their run of poor outings against the Capitals, especially in Washington. Tampa Bay has lost five straight in the nation’s capital and is 2-8 in its last 10 games against the Caps.
Vladislav Namestnikov scored the lone goal for the Lightning, a power-play tally in the opening two minutes. Tampa Bay was seeking to match the franchise record for consecutive road wins — seven straight from Jan. 7-Feb. 1, 2007.
Grubauer (1-5-1) and Washington held Tampa Bay’s high-scoring duo of Steve Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov in check. Stamkos leads the NHL with 36 points and Kucherov came in with a league-leading 17 goals.
“I’m proud to get the win for the boys,” Grubauer said.
Tampa Bay wasted no time racing to a 1-0 lead. With Washington’s Brooks Orpik in the penalty box for hooking, Kucherov took a shot that hit Namestnikov and ricocheted into the net at 1:22.
Ovechkin tied it at 18:36 with a wrist shot from the left circle. Backstrom got the second assist.
Washington outshot Tampa Bay 16-7 in the first period and 14-9 in the second.
“I think everyone in this room knows that if we play the way we have to, we’re a tough team to beat,” Smith-Pelly said.
NOTES: Ovechkin has 573 goals, tied with Mike Bossy for 21st on the career list. … Tampa Bay has a power-play goal in 18 of 22 games. … Washington is in the midst of playing at home in nine of 10 games. The Capitals are 7-1 at home this month… Tampa Bay’s Braydon Coburn played in his 800th NHL game. … The Capitals recalled C Tyler Graovac from the Hershey Bears of the AHL. He did not suit up.
Lightning: At Pittsburgh on Saturday night.
Capitals: At Toronto on Saturday night.
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