After an eight-month layoff and just a week to learn and implement a new set of systems, the expectation was that the Caps would probably have a bit of a sloppy start.
It's nice when things go exactly as expected, right?
There were some positive moments, some aspects of the game that inspired hope for better outings, and it wasn't without excitement and intrigue - but for most of the night the Caps simply seemed to be feeling each other out as much as their opponent, hesistant at times, lost at others and at the end of the night unable to generate enough at either end for the win.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Right out of the gate, the story of this one was what everyone's been focused on all week: special teams. The Lightning and Caps combined for 13 minor penalties on the night, some more questionable than others and the calls shifting from the Caps' favor to the home team's by night's end, with four of the nine goals coming with the extra man.
- Of those four goals, three of them were against the Caps - also known as half their goals on the night. Tough to fault Braden Holtby on all of them, although that opening tally was one he probably should have had; some of the goals were screened, others the result of mad scrambles by all four or five teammates in front of him. And there's going to be an adjustment period for Holtby, as he reacclimates himself to the faster speed of the NHL after three months in the A.
- Unlikely hero award goes to Joel Ward, who potted two of the Caps' three goals tonight (including one on the power play) by doing what he did in Game 7 of the first round last year - going to the net. Both times he made sure to be in the right place at the right time, ready to tap home a juicy rebound or a puck laying tantalizingly close to the goal line. He also finished the night with a surprising - and team-leading - five shots on goal.
- Good thing Ward managed to get those two goals, otherwise this one would have looked really ugly. And that was largely thanks to some really ugly defensive play by the Caps, from the first two goals in an otherwise halfway decent opening frame to the disaster that was the final forty minutes. Somewhat understandable, as many of the players must feel like they've been released from handcuffs in Adam Oates' new offensively-aggressive system... but they've got to remember how to lock things down in front of their own net or else, well, this happens. It's early, though. They'll learn.
- Heading into tonight's game, Martin St. Louis had 23 goals and 45 assists in 68 career games against the Caps. By the time the game was over, he'd inflated those numbers to 25 and 46. Just let us know when you're ready to retire, Marty... we'll buy you a nice watch as we shove you out the door.
- So remember all the fuss about Alex Ovechkin being used on the penalty kill? Well, one game down and he finished the night with just over a minute of shorthanded ice time, a giant center ice hit, no goals-against and an excellent shift covering the always-dangerous Steven Stamkos. It was clear that he's still adjusting to his new role, as he seemed a little lost out there at times, but it wasn't the disaster some might have predicted. Certainly a good foundation to build on.
- Truly one of the great stories of this past week has been the sudden return to health of Tom Poti, who was back out on the ice after a little over two years away from professional hockey. There were a few rough moments (particularly on the fifth Tampa goal) but otherwise a solid return to the NHL for Poti, even picking up an assist on the team's first tally. Welcome back, sir.
- Adam Oates made the decision before tonight's game to dress seven defensemen against the Bolts to ease in a blue line that has been out of action since last season. That would prove to be somewhat important, as Jack Hillen would leave the game after a Vincent Lecavalier check sent him into the boards shoulder-first.
- Right off the bat it looks like Mike Ribeiro and Wojtek Wolski might have some game, and some chemistry with each other to boot. The Caps' third goal came off a nice read by the duo, as Ribeiro fired a high shot off of Anders Lindback (while being pursued by three defenders, no less) and Wolski drove the net to pick up the juicy rebound. Excellent work by both of not giving up on the play, rounding out a pretty decent debut for each.
- That play doesn't happen, by the way, unless Mike Green is his silky-smooth self on the back end. One of several times where he was involved in the play, something that's been missing of late - either because of injury or because of a coaching decision - and something that's a welcome sight.
So Game 1 is in the books, and this season is officially underway - perhaps not in the way most of us would have liked, but the fact that it's underway in the first place is something to be thankful for.
And it's important not to get ahead of ourselves. While a shortened season does mean that each game is that much more important, it's still just one game, with plenty of time to take lessons from this game and apply them going forward. No team is going to go all 48 games without a loss - might as well get it out of the way now, figure out what went wrong, and fix it before we get too deep into the season.