WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 08: Keith Aucoin #23 of the Washington Capitals celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the first perido at the Verizon Center on March 8, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
There's no denying the Capitals have faced their share of adversity this season. Between injuries to arguably their two most important players, a coaching change that probably should have been made over the summer, and, for whatever reason, blind luck seeming to hurt the team far more than it helped, it's almost as if the team has been cursed. This homestand that concluded tonight was in large part no exception, with the Caps picking up just three points in the first four games.
All that said, tonight the Capitals were as close to needing a win as a team can be at this point in the season; against a mediocre-at-best Tampa Bay team, they were able to pull one out in a manner that was, in some ways, reminiscent of the magic the team has shown us over the last few years...and keep their playoff dreams alive for at least a few more days.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Interesting to see new Lightning defenseman Keith Aulie try to intimidate Caps' winger Jason Chimera in the middle of the first period, especially in the wake of Aulie's fight with Ottawa's Colin Greening on Tuesday. Apparently the former Maple isn't aware that Brian Burke didn't follow him to Tampa.
- One quick note on Keith Aucoin's goal - according to the stat sheet, Aucoin gives up about nine inches and 35 pounds to Tampa defenseman Victor Hedman, which demonstrates two things: that a big defenseman isn't a panacea for front of the net scoring chances, and that there's really no excuse for not getting there if you're a forward.
- What Joe Beninati called a "crafty veteran move" - Eric Brewer's blatant trip of Jay Beagle in front of the Tampa Bay net - I'd call a pretty strong indication the guy's "give a damn" level isn't particularly high. Brewer may be a vet and may have an 'A' on his sweater, but he looked checked out for this game...at the very least.
- Speaking of bad penalties, what was Mathieu Perreault thinking on his second period high-sticking infraction? Minimal benefit, and it couldn't have been more obvious. Even if he doesn't get the stick up there, it's an obvious hook or interference call.
- Lots of talk about Steven Stamkos' chase for his fiftieth goal tonight, which is exciting because watching such a talented young player is always fun. And just as depressing, because I remember thinking how lucky the Caps were to get a guy like Alex Ovechkin with the number one overall pick rather than having to settle like the Lightning.
- And speaking of things I feel silly about from a few years ago, remember when, coming out of the lockout, there was an emphasis on getting rid of the holding and interference? I feel stupid for expecting that to last, at least to a small degree. Apparently it's impossible to play defense in today's NHL without systematically pushing guys away from the puck on dump-ins.
- Call me a softie, but I almost always like seeing a guy in his first NHL game - after all, how many of us ever get to achieve our life-long dream? So, congratulations to Dustin Tokarski, who has a generally solid game, even if he looked a little nervy in the first period. But then, who could blame him?
- On the same topic, and without taking anything away from Tokarski, it's easier to have a solid game when you have basically an entire period off. Good on the Caps for outshooting the Bolts 16-3 after the second period, but getting only three on net during the middle frame is both unacceptable and unexplainable.
- Based on what we've seen this season, expect Mike Green to be hit with a suspension; based on common sense, he deserves it. It's hard to think of a recent hit the fits the definition of "kill shot" any better than that one.
- Not matter what happens with the rest of this season, we should all be able to take comfort in the bright futures of Marcus Johansson and Dmitry Orlov, both of whom were crucial in tonight's win. If this season has taught us anything, it's for this team to truly be successful, depth is going to be key, and in today's NHL, the best way to get depth is by developing your own players.
It's funny how expectations change as the season progresses - in October, we probably all would have assumed an early March win over a team clearly out of the playoff race was inconsequential, rolled our eyes and asked to be awakened at the start of the playoffs.
But the reality is, right now, every win matters; every point counts because the Caps still have a battle ahead of them to even make it in to the postseason. Let's hope the team plays accordingly on Saturday.