It may not be the true halfway point, but there's no question that the All-Star break is a demarcation point of the season, one that separates that "it's still early" portion from the stretch run. And in the first game back from the break, the Caps needed to put the pedal to the metal and finish out strong - not only to set the tone for the second half but also to keep pace with the rest of the conference.
Unfortunately tonight they just fell short, staging a comeback and forcing overtime but ultimately finding themselves unable to finish it out. No shame in this one, though; the Caps played hard and earned a well-deserved point headed into a big showdown tomorrow night.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Seeing Matt Hendricks on the second line alongside Troy Brouwer and Brooks Laich was probably enough to turn a few heads coming into this one, but in a weird way it seemed to work, with that line providing most of the early energy to kick off the road trip and continuing most of the game. They even generated the first goal of the game, as Hendricks took a lemon of a whiff and made it into lemonade...aka a sneaky backhander over Mathieu Garon's shoulder. He totally meant to do that.
- There's nothing wrong with a little toughness on the road, but against a Tampa team where the most likely combatant is 5'11" Steve Downie, one has to question bringing up a guy like Joel Rechlicz, whose claim to fame is the PIM lead - by a healthy margin - in the AHL. Especially when his total ice time for the evening was shorter than your average commercial break, and especially considering the fact that he didn't see a shift after the first period.
- Right up until the last minute of the opening frame, the Caps were poised to take a lead, albeit a small one, into the locker room. Enter the last minute goal of doom, one that came about because for some reason all five guys on the ice for the Caps simultaneously forgot what they were doing. Um... synergy?
- Even worse than the last minute goal of doom (LMGD) is the first minute killer, another familiar foe that reared its ugly head at the start of the second. At first glance, it looked like simply a blown tire by Hamrlik followed by a speedy zone entry by Martin St. Louis. Upon further review, however, it appears there was simultaneous fail by both the refs (missing Lecavalier's interference on both Hamrlik and Carlson) and the linesmen (missing just how offsides #4 was whilst interfering with two Caps). A hat trick of a less-than-pleasant kind, that.
- Tomas Vokoun's glove save on Vincent Lecavalier early in the overtime frame was the kind of thing that dreams are made of. Or nightmares, depending on what jersey you're wearing. Absolute highway robbery.
- Coming back from the All Star break, one might assume this would be a sloppy, turnover-filled game. You know what they say about what happens when you assume... sometimes you're right.
- Hard to think of a goalie who takes a dive quite like Dwayne Rolo-... oh, that was Garon? Well, I suppose the guy who gets a front row seat to it on a nightly basis would be able to do a pretty good impression. The stick-toss and twirl in mid-air was an especially nice touch. Next time? Jazz hands!
- Roman Hamrlik has been one of the Caps' better defenseman over the last month or two. This needs to be reiterated, since one might forget it watching tonight's game. He looked lost on Tampa's first goal, stumbled to the ice on Tampa's second goal (which obviously wasn't his fault but still embarrassing), and followed it up by simply getting beat by Nate Thompson on the third goal. That he wasn't on the ice for the overtime winner is likely only because he was benched for most of the third period and all of overtime. Shake it off, big guy.
- Up until the extra frame, Dmitri Orlov was quietly having a very nice game for himself, looking rested and reinvigorated after the long weekend and playing much better than he had been going into the break. Sadly that takes a back-burner to getting straight up beaten by St. Louis on the overtime winner (although in Orlov's defense, it can't be easy to track someone who comes up to your ankles) - he lost his man, Stamkos got free and just like that it was game over.
- No Alex Ovechkin for a second straight game (with one more looming tomorrow night) - and yet the Caps have picked up three of the four possible points without their captain. That's truly nothing to sneeze at.
That the Caps gave up an important point in Tampa tonight stings a bit; that it came off the stick of Steven Stamkos stings a bit more.
But there's something to say for the odd "good" loss (especially when accompanied by the bonus point for making it to extra time), and this was one of them. The Caps were incredibly depleted against a team that boasted all of their big guns and yet came out and attacked early, erased a two-goal deficit late and earned a crucial point in the standings. Obviously a win would have been better - but we'll take it.