Coming off their first win of this still-young 2013 season, the Caps headed to Ottawa with a bit of confidence or, at the very least, without a monkey on their collective back (or in the overhead compartment... how do monkeys travel these days, anyway?). They came out guns a-blazin' and the energy and effort that had propelled them to Friday night's comeback and Sunday's victory helped them grab an improbable 2-0 lead early. But whether they took their foot off the gas or simply had a couple of bad lapses, they found themselves tied late and when teams don't take care of their own business, they're often susceptible to letting spotty officiating help take care of it for them, which is exactly what happened in the Caps' 3-2 loss to the Senators on Tuesday night.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Much as American League umpires would defer to Ted Williams' famous judgment with regards to calling strikes - if The Splendid Splinter took the pitch, it was almost certainly a ball - NHL referees should simply assume that if Karl Alzner did it, it probably wasn't a penalty. While that's obviously hyperbole, his interference minor early on was questionable at best... and probably not called once the season gets a month or two old (or perhaps once games get a period or two in).
- Good positioning in the neutral zone leads to turnovers and quick counter-strikes. For three-quarters of the 2011-12 season, Caps fans were told to expect that type of offense, but it never materialized. Thirteen minutes into the first period of this game, however, that's exactly what happened, as a Guillaume Latendresse turnover at the Caps blueline was sent the other way by Nicklas Backstrom and a Wojtek Wolski-Troy Brouwer 2-on-1 was converted by the latter on a deke and a backhand finish.
- Speaking of Monumental's 404 poster boy (Brouwer), we noted on Twitter pre-game that he had scored just five goals over his last 45 regular season game entering Tuesday night's match-up. Good to see that the reverse jinx is working.
- And speaking of the reverse jinx, earlier in the day we'd pointed out that Ottawa netminder Craig Anderson had only allowed one even-strength goal-against in his first four games. Brouwer doubled that with his tally, and four-and-a-half minutes later Matt Hendricks added another. One thing to note on that goal - with the faceoff in the left dot, it was the left-handed Hendricks who took (and won) the draw back to John Erskine, who was able to move the puck to Jay Beagle (who would've taken the draw had it been in the right dot). Beagle put the puck towards the net and Hendricks deflected it past Anderson.
- Congrats to Beagle - Alex Ovechkin's center, Jay Beagle - on setting a new career high for assists in a season... with two. Beagle had three assists in his first 84 NHL games (one in each of the previous three seasons) and now has two in his last four. Of course, it should be noted that Ovechkin didn't have a single shot on goal until the two minutes into the third. But, hey... playmaker!
- By putting Mathieu Perreault and Eric Fehr together on the fourth line, Adam Oates is giving each a chance to make his case for a sweater. And while they generated a bit of offense (including a good Fehr chance in the second-half of the second period and a momentum-stemming third period shift), Perreault didn't help his cause with a pair of iffy penalties (one of which was offset by a Kyle Turris dive call).
- The Senators got one back late in the second after a terrible gamble at the top of the Ottawa zone by John Carlson led to a break the other way. The strange thing is, though, that the Caps looked to have the rush well-defended, but simply didn't tie up Jim O'Brien's (whose?) stick, and with 1:23 left in the middle stanza, the Caps lead was halved. (Mike Ribeiro, the guilty party on the non-check, hadn't been on the ice for an even-strength goal-against up until that point.)
- Important point: the Caps owned the game at even-strength through 40 minutes, out-shooting Ottawa 22-10 and outscoring them 2-1. For the game, even-strength shots ended up 29-16 Caps, which is a good formula for success... if they can straighten out their special teams.
- Michal Neuvirth was solid-if-not-super through two periods, but had a bit of a brian cramp 2:20 into the third when he was seemingly unprepared after a faceoff to his left appeared to be won back by Nicklas Backstrom only to see Neuvirth's fellow countryman Milan Michalek somehow beat another (unprepared) fellow countryman, Tomas Kundratek, to the puck and put it past Neuvirth. Czech, please.
- And then... Joel Ward took a stick penalty late. Yeah, yeah, shades of last year's Rangers series. Except this was more shades of the 2003 playoffs against Tampa when Olie Kolzig got dinged for a high-stick on a follow-through... which isn't a penalty. Here's how the rule reads today: "a player is permitted accidental contact on an opponent if the act is committed as a normal windup or follow through of a shooting motion. A wild swing at a bouncing puck would not be considered a normal windup or follow through and any contact to an opponent above the height of the shoulders shall be penalized accordingly." You be the judge. Tough call, and the Sens scored on the ensuing power-play. Game. Over.
It's tough to lose a game after having a two-goal lead with 22 minutes left (in regulation, no less). But there were positives to be taken from this game and built upon, and with points at a premium, that building needs to turn into something more tangible soon. A point tonight would've been nice. Two in Toronto on Thursday starts to feel real important with a couple of Pennsylvania-based teams following them on the schedule.