The NHL's unofficial second-half - the post-All-Star Game stretch run - opened League-wide tonight and gave contenders and pretenders alike the chance to set a tone going forward. The Southeast Division-leading Tampa Bay Lightning, for example, scored twice in the first 1:21 en route to a 4-0 win over the Eastern Conference's top team.
Through 20 minutes, it looked as if the Caps were going to be sending a similar message. They'd scored first. They'd scored on the power-play. They'd killed two penalties. And, most importantly, they had a 2-0 lead. Then came a second-period in which they were out-shot, out-played and out-smarted. The third period and overtime were somewhat better, but the bottom line is that the Caps were out-shot 37 to 23 in just over 57 minutes after taking that 2-0 lead. That's not going to be good enough on many nights, and it wasn't on Tuesday, as the Caps dropped a 3-2 decision in the shootout.
Ten more notes on the game:
- The only thing more predictable than Mathieu Perreault having a big game upon being recalled from Hershey was that everyone covering the team would make that observation. Perreault now has two points in each of his three "first games" this season.
- Fitting that on a night when the Caps honored Dino Ciccarelli - whose 112 goals for the team could probably be laid end-to-end and not stretch from one end of the rink to the other - the guy wearing Dino's number 22, Mike Knuble, would score a goal from right on top of the crease (and on the power-play no less).
- Speaking of that goal, Mike Green put on the type of stickhandling display you might have expected to see from him this past weekend at the All-Star Game before dishing to Knuble for the tap-in. What's as unreal as that effort is that it was only Green's third power-play assist since October.
- Back to Knuble for a moment, it was good to see him reunited with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin on the top line. The trio didn't score (but did generate a dozen shots on goal and strong Corsi ratings), but Knuble really needs to play with top talent in order to be effective (and he'd be the first to tell you that). If he's not on the top line, he almost might as well be scratched.
- Ill-Advised, Part 1 - John Erskine pinching in with a 2-0 lead, which was followed by a Matt Hendricks stumble, a Habs' 2-on-1, and a Brian Gionta goal.
- Ill-Advised, Part 2 - John Carlson's drop pass from a stride inside the offensive zone that failed to connect, which was followed by another odd-man rush the other way and another Gionta goal. That decision by the Caps' Calder Trophy hopeful was his most notably poor one on the night, but it's certainly worth noting that he passed up multiple opportunities to fire shots towards the net, including at least once in overtime. Gotta let the big dog eat, RAHJC.
Brooks Laich had a very strong first shift of the game, as his trio cycled the puck expertly and eventually caught the Habs in a bad change that led to the Perreault tally. But things went downhill fast for Laich, who took three penalties (including one to negate a Caps power-play, and then a terrible retaliatory hook, both in the third) and left the ice hobbled by an Alex Ovechkin slapshot that looked to have caught him in the leg. Loosen up and have some fun out there, Brooksie - you're squeezing your stick too tight.
- If not for Semyon Varlamov, this game never would have made it to overtime, as the Canadiens had quality chance after quality chance, many generated by long stretch passes, and Varly cast aside 36 of them. Hard to fault him on either Gionta goal.
- The penalty kill continues to shine, going 6-for-6 on Tuesday, stopping 11 shots in 10:06 and winning all nine draws it took shorthanded. Wow.
Marcus Johansson skated a team-low 8:01 on just 12 shifts. He did draw a penalty, but was also caught a bit too deep in the Montreal zone on the first Gionta goal. With Perreault having a strong game, look for MoJo to be stapled to the third line for now.
Given the opportunity to start the post-break portion of the schedule with a statement, the Caps responded... with a statement. They're the same team they've been all year - inconsistent, uneven and unable to simply show up for twenty minutes to take home two points, as they were able to do a season ago. In the long-run, learning the lesson of that last point might be the best thing to happen to this team. But they still have to learn it. And time is running out.