As the Caps play out the regular season against often mediocre opposition and with big leads in the Conference and even the President's Trophy races, motivation can understandably become difficult to muster. And if the latter half of Thursday night's Carolina game and the better part of Saturday night's 3-1 win in Tampa are any indication, it has. Combine the last game of a four-game trip with the fact that the next team on the schedule is you-know-who, and it was perhaps unsurprising to see a relatively uninspired effort from the best team in the East.
Luckily for them, talent alone is often enough to win, and it was in this one - take the two points and head home.
Ten more notes on the game:
- The big pre-game story, of course, was the return of Alex Ovechkin. His line for the night? One pretty goal (the game-winner), seven shots on goal (with another six not reaching the net), one hit and one drawn penalty in 22:52 of ice time.
- The big in-game story was Jose Theodore, who stopped 33 of the 34 shots on goal he faced, including a perfect 12-for-12 on the penalty kill. Theodore is now 16-0-2/2.40/.927 since January 13 and 6-0-0/1.80/.939 since the Olympic break.
- I'm not sure I understand dressing John Erskine against a team whose power play has eaten you alive all season, given that Big John's the team's least-disciplined and worst penalty-killing blueliner. And while Erskine managed not to be on the ice for a goal against in 1:44 of shorthanded ice time, he and Tom Poti were an awful pairing on the night, utterly dominated territorially, with each committing a penalty (Poti's being an incredibly undisciplined roughing that Steve Downie goaded him into).
- Presumably the rationale behind giving Erskine a sweater was in case things got chippy, and they did, "highlighted" by Zenon Konopka - the NHL's leader in fighting majors - dropping the mittens with Scott Walker. Against the Caps this season, Konopka has now fought David Steckel in the latter's first fight in two seasons and Walker in his fourth fight in the past two seasons. We're all very impressed, tough guy.
- On a related note, Walker - who has a history of concussion-related issues - did not return to the game after Konopka connected with an uppercut in the bout. That deep depth the Caps have up front may have gotten drained a bit in Florida this week (considering that Boyd Gordon aggravated his back injury in Sunrise two games earlier).
Bruce Boudreau gave Brendan Morrison a turn centering the second line tonight (per your request) and B-Mo was one of the Caps' better forwards, with a stat line that included the second-best face-off percentage of any Cap pivot. Of course, that percentage was a woeful 33% - which was also Nicklas Backstrom's win percentage and a full 11 percentage points better than Eric Belanger.
- It's hard to blame Erskine and Eric Fehr for their boarding penalties, as there wasn't a good recent example of a penalty for a hit from behind into the boards of which they'd be aware.
- The Caps' fourth line at the start of the evening had two twenty-goal scorers (Fehr and Tomas Fleischmann) on it. The Boston Bruins have one twenty-goal scorer, total. Sure enough, the unit scored the first goal of the game as Victor Hedman allowed Flash to tap in a cross-ice Fehr feed.
- After watching a game like that, especially in the third period, you have to wonder whether Alex Semin's inability to draw penalty calls is the result of a reputation he's developed as, to put it bluntly, a diver. He was mugged repeatedly, to no avail.
- Mike Knuble and John Carlson must be having a competition to see who can come the closest to scoring without actually scoring. Knuble had a goal waived off (again) after the net was knocked loose a moment before he buried a Backstrom feed and Carlson hit the post (again) in a bid for his first NHL goal. Gotta think these guys are going to find twine sooner rather than later.
The Caps concluded their final road trip of the season of more than one game with a 3-0-1 mark and now have an eye-popping 16-point lead in the Eastern Conference. They also have three days to prepare for their next game. Something tells me they'll be a little more inspired for that one.