The Capitals opened this season seemingly determined to "stay angry"; to show up every night, play hard, play smart, and be consistent. Yet as the season has worn on, players have slumped, and injuries have popped up, we've seen far too little of far too many good things - passion, "compete level", smart hockey. But a night like tonight offers hope that everything we'd hoped the Capitals could be is still possible, and that the boys just need to find a way to make sure it comes through.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Brooks Laich and Mike Knuble haven't had the most productive or consistent seasons of their respective careers, so it was nice to see them doing what they do best: Laich staying with a play and creating a goal for the team because of it, and Knuble taking (and dishing out) punishment in front of the net and creating a screen for a shooter.
- Refereeing is as much an art as a science, a fact which means different games will have different criteria for what constitutes a penalty - and that's perfectly fine, even when it means people are getting sent to the box for little love taps like the one Jason Chimera gave Mattias Ohlund. Of course, if that was a two minute penalty, the Ohlund cross check that preceded it was worth a four game suspension.
- I'm still not sure I buy the theory that Alex Ovechkin's (relative) lack of production is no cause for concern, that he's going to be able to turn it on when it matters most, or that he's pacing himself for the postseason, but if it means he's going to play in the spring tonight like the way he did tonight, I don't care if he picks up another point all regular season.
- If Steve Downie played in a market that received a little more attention, I'm not sure Sean Avery would have such a stranglehold on that "most hated man in the NHL" title.
- Bruce Boudreau takes a lot of flak - perhaps rightly so - for his relatively unimpressive track record as a strategist, but he had tonight's game down. The Caps were patient, applied selective pressure, and made effective usage of long cross-ice dumps to mitigate Tampa Bay's transition game, one of the team's most dangerous weapons.
- Dwayne Roloson was awfully upset with Matt Hendricks there early in the first period. Presumably because Hendricks actually made decent enough contact to knock Roloson over, thus depriving the Lightning netminder of the opportunity to share his well-developed acting talents with the world.
- I generally don't like to speak in absolutes, but if you don't like watching Martin St. Louis play, you don't like hockey.
- All thing considered, Boudreau and the coaching staff did a pretty good job of keeping ice time spread out. The numbers for some of the teams top players - Ovechkin (22:22), Mike Green (26:16), and John Carlson (26:49), as examples - were a little higher than you'd like to see on a night to night basis, but then the stakes for this game were a little higher too.
- It's just about the least interesting thing you'll see during an NHL game this side of the New Jersey Devils, but the way the Capitals were willing to play pitch-and-catch with the puck in their own end until Tampa upped the forecheck was a small sign of a maturing team because it wasn't long ago you'd expect to see the Caps throw caution to the wind and try and unwisely force something.
- The most encouraging aspect of tonight's game? The way the Capitals were able to keep up the pressure and finish the Lightning off. That's something this team has struggled with for way too long, and it's nice to see a sign that it's an area they might be taking a little more seriously.
Next up: a Winter Classic rematch with the Penguins, which will itself be a small test of just where the Caps are as a team, not only because it gives them a chance to play against an elite opponent, but because it will test the team's newfound discipline.