Either the Capitals suffered a bit of a letdown after an emotionally-charged Penguins game that was "just another game"...or someone told them the game actually started at 8:30 tonight. Whatever the reasoning, the Caps simply didn't come to play early and it showed - they looked sluggish and unfocused early on, giving up two goals and sleepwalking through the first half of the game before turning it on.
And turn it on they did, with a third period attack that simply serves as a reminder of just how good this team can be. You know, when they want to.
That they failed to lock up the extra point in the shootout is disappointing, but not the end of the world. If anything it's somewhat of a relief that the historic 50th win of the season - which they will no doubt achieve sooner or later - didn't come as a result of a gimmick.
Ten more notes on the game:
- First and foremost, congratulations to John Carlson on his first career NHL goal. It took many a dented iron (and one teammate's dented face) but he finally found the back of the net, off a great effort to join the rush. It turned out to be a pretty big goal for the Caps, as well, as it tied up the game and eventually gave the Caps their 109th point of the season.
- We've talked about how Semyon Varlamov continues to improve with each outing, and this was no exception as Varly put together what was without a doubt his best performance since his injury. After being beaten by one shot that was screened and one that was deflected, Varlamov shut the door for the rest of the game. And yet there remains the one he should have stopped...the dribbler in the shootout. Tough break on an otherwise stellar night.
- Another night, another solid performance by Tyler Sloan - go figure. Of course, the less we see of a Green-Sloan duo on the blueline going forward, the better for all of us.
- It's hard to blame either Carolina goal on defensive breakdowns per se, although it would be great if John Erskine would avoid putting his 6'4", 220-pound frame right in Varlamov's sightline. The team as a whole played a decent defensive game, one that got better (like everything else) as the game progressed.
- Sometimes it's nice to just let the game flow, to watch end-to-end action - hockey at its purest. That's exactly what we got for long stretches in the third, as the refs put the whistles away, the icings and offsides drew to a halt, and the boys could just...play.
- It was awfully nice of Alexander Semin to get a goal back for the Caps after his early interference call in the first period put the Caps in a hole. Not the prettiest goal Semin will ever score, and Manny Legace certainly wants that one back, but it counts.
- Alex Ovechkin fired six shots on goal, had another seven blocked and shot five of them high, wide, and everywhere but on net. He wasn't the only one firing at will, however, as everyone on the team except Dave Steckel registered at least one shot on goal. Even Quintin Laing got in on the fun, with three shots (and none blocked, oddly enough) in just seven minutes of ice time.
- Along with the 43 shots that actually hit Legace, there were also an amazing 35 more that were blocked. Seven of those were courtesy of the opening goal-scorer, Jamie McBain, and six more left a mark on former Cap Brian Pothier.
- On the one hand, it's a bit disturbing to have both Tomas Fleischmann and Brendan Morrison on the same line - talk about your duel to see who can whiff on more close proximity shots. On the other, it's kind of a nice move by Boudreau to insure that all of the whiffage (...it's a word) stays contained on one line. No wonder Semin wouldn't give up the puck late in the game.
Mike Knuble one night, Mike Green the next. Keep half-expecting to see John Erskine take a shot at the shootout one of these games.
It's hard to feel all that depressed after this one. Yes, we prefer wins to losses but there's something less painful about falling in an overblown skills competition. And when you're not scrapping for points, it's much easier to look at a game like this - a game one day removed from one of those fabulously overhyped battles with the Penguins - and not be all that concerned.
They do pick up a point on Western Conference leaders Chicago, and they have failed to pick up a point in just four games since the start of 2010. As these last few games roll away, we'll see more like this - tight contests against teams still in it, or believing they're still in it, or simply wanting to get one last shot at a top team before the end of the year. The Caps are still struggling a bit at keeping their focus for a whole 60 minutes but they're not letting games slip away without a fight, either.
And that's not a bad thing.