As far as entertainment value goes, Thursday night's Southeast Division match-up between the Caps and Lightning did not disappoint - the superstars for both sides did what they do best, the teams filled the nets with goals, and the hometown team skated off with a victory. And while headliners Alex Ovechkin (one goal, two assists) and Steven Stamkos (one goal, one assist) contributed, the night belonged to Alexander Semin. The "other" Alex notched his second hat trick in the last nine games, added a pair of helpers, drew a key penalty and provided 1:34 of scoreless penalty killing for good measure. For a while now he's been the Caps' best forward, and the amount by which he outshone the game's other megastars tonight was something to behold.
Ten more notes on the game:
Michal Neuvirth got lucky a couple of times early on, as a pair of Tampa shots rang iron, but his luck ran out when the Bolts cashed in a bad rebound left for Teddy Purcell (who, not for nothing, should have been tied up by Brooks Laich, who was in perfect position to do something but chose rather to do nothing). Neuvirth settled down a bit, made a few big saves and ended up stopping 38 shots, but clearly isn't playing as well as he was in October. Perhaps the worst part about that is that he seems to know it - the swagger we saw a couple of weeks ago is largely gone, hopefully to return soon. As well it should - Neuvy leads the League in wins.
- So if Neuvirth had 38 saves, that means the Lightning took 41 shots, which is way too many to allow to any time, much less one that knows how to score. Worst of all, 16 of those shots came in the third period, a stanza the Caps played the majority of with a lead. The Bolts attempted 70 shots on the night. The Caps? Just 47 (26 of which were on net). As you can imagine, that led to some brutal Corsi numbers.
- Welcome back, Tom Poti. The veteran blueliner had suited up just twice since October 9, but didn't miss a beat, both adding to the offense (with a nifty goal) and failing to make a relative easy clear on a penalty kill.
- What a crazy game this is. For weeks, Mike Knuble couldn't buy a break, Now karma's done a 180. That's not to take anything away from his brilliant tap-in on which his entire body was well-below the goal line... but rather to say that the proverbial worm has turned for the big rig.
- Nicklas Backstrom ended the evening with four assists (for the fourth time in his career). As impressive as that number is, Nick might find even more assist opportunities in the future if he gets back to shooting a bit more. He's got a dangerous shot, but if he's always looking to pass, he becomes a bit more predictable. But yeah. Four assists.
- It's beating a dead horse a bit, but Mike Green continues to play the tough minutes against opponents' top players, tonight skating almost exclusively against the Bolts' top line at even strength.
- Late in the second period, Matt Bradley blew up Mike Lundin on a perfectly clean hit in the corner. Tampa forward Adam Hall responded by instigating a fight with Bradley (which Bradley won, for what it's worth). My thoughts on these retaliations are well-documented, but I'd add that if the players aren't going to stop reacting this way, the referees absolutely have to start having the guts to make the right call and give the aggressor an instigator penalty. It's beyond absurd.
- Maybe it was Stamkos's goal that woke Ovechkin up a bit, but AO didn't register his first shot on goal until 13:25 of the third period. His second shot on goal essentially sealed the victory for the Caps, and he's now tied for the League-lead in helpers.
- David Steckel responded to a healthy scratch with a monster game in the faceoff circle, winning 20 of the 29 draws he took. He also tied for the team lead with four hits. He'll be leaned on a bit more with Boyd Gordon expected to be out of the lineup for a week or so.
- Take away Tomas Fleischmann's 3-for-
912 in the dot and the Caps won 62.7% of the game's draws. He was also on the ice for the two Tampa even-strength goals (breaking his streak of ice time without being on for a goal against) and, well, was Tomas Fleischmann. I can't imagine there would be many objections from CapsNation if he were to find himself in the press box in favor of Marcus Johansson on Saturday night.
With the win, the Caps up their record to 12-4-0 overall and 8-1-0 at home. They have two more wins than any other team in hockey and have the best goal differential in the League (tied with Philly). And yet, there's plenty of work to be done. That is, in areas other than playing entertaining hockey.