After a thrillingly soggy Winter Classic win on New Year's Day, the hope was that a game against their division rival Tampa Bay would help stave off any hangover that might accompany such an emotional, hype-filled weekend. And despite a sluggish start, that did seem to be the case.
But if you were expecting a game as riveting as Saturday's, you came to the wrong place.
There were chances at both ends, and plenty of hitting (particularly early on) but for the most part this was a grudge match - minimal flow, lots of shots from the perimeter and matching zeroes on the scoreboard for the entire game. Well, at least until the first and only tally of the night by Martin St. Louis in overtime...
Ten more notes on the game:
- Generally a 0-0 tie equals a goaltending duel of epic proportions, and tonight was no exception as Dwayne Roloson and Semyon Varlamov just about matched each other save for save from start to finish. At times they committed robbery and at others they just got a little lucky, but with a combined 72 shots fired at the two of them and just one goal allowed, it was truly a night for the goalies to shine.
- Of course, the shiny star that was Varlamov gets a little tarnish on the overtime winner, a rebound off his right pad that you'd probably prefer he not aim directly at a Tampa player - especially when that Tampa player is St. Louis. Not much help from Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Poti on the play, either.
- Matt Hendricks made up one-third of a checking line that did a great job of pestering the Bolts all night long. But his moment of glory truly came at about the halfway mark of the game when he got into a scrap with that guy everyone loves to hate, Steve Downie. Hendricks' uppercut to the jaw left Downie icing his face when all was said and done...although neither one was too bruised to exchange some rather colorful barbs from across the penalty box. Hey, Downie, see you next...Wednesday. Ahem.
- Tampa Bay has one of the most potent power plays in the League, but for the second straight meeting the Caps held Steven Stamkos and friends off the board with the extra man, and did so with a strong, aggressive penalty kill (and some stellar goaltending). They've now given up just one power play goal in thirteen chances against the Lightning this year, a truly monumental task.
- That's good, because as Bruce Boudreau pointed out in his press conference, it's not like the power play's clicking. In fact, tonight it almost seemed like the better chances with the extra man came on delayed calls with the goalie pulled for a brief 6-on-5 advantage.
- As well as Roloson was playing, where were the second and third opportunities? Where was the traffic in front of him? Are we back to this again? Go...to the front...of the net. Then get the puck there. Lather, rinse, repeat.
- Last week John Carlson and Karl Alzner were tasked with shutting down Montreal's top line. They then drew the tough assignment of stopping Sidney Crosby and friends on Saturday. Tonight, for the third straight game, they were put up against the opponent's top sniper in Stamkos - and for the third straight game they rose to the challenge and then some. Alzner in particular had a very strong game, blocking shots, making crisp outlet passes and pushing shooters to the perimeter. Not bad for a couple of kids half Roloson's age (although to be fair, just about everyone on the ice was half Roloson's age).
- Continuing the trend of young kids performing at high levels, Marcus Johansson had another smooth-skating, slick-passing night that included some great moves to get away from the Tampa D on a delayed call early in the game and some nifty passes that never quite got the finish they deserved. He was rewarded with a promotion to the second line between Brooks Laich and Alexander Semin, and he finished the night with a season-high 16:11 of ice time.
- Yup, Vincent Lecavalier is still a bit of a brat.
- It's not surprising to see Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin combine for 14 shots on goal. The sad thing is, these days it's also not surprising to see them combine for another 13 that never made it to the net...and exactly zero that found the back of it.
So as the season hits the halfway mark, the Caps will have to settle for second place in the Southeast, just one miniscule point behind division-leading Tampa Bay. With that second place spot comes full awareness that the division title is no longer a guarantee - and if that makes them work a little harder, take a little less for granted, and perhaps play a more boring (but ultimately more successful) game...you certainly won't hear me complaining.