It was a very, very weird game in Tampa last night, a Caps’ 7-4 loss to the ‘Bolts, anomalous in so many ways. Of the game’s first five power plays, all produced goals. A hallmark of this season has been stellar play by the Caps in games’ opening 20 minutes; Tuesday night it was their undoing. Just when it looked as if the Caps would be run out of the building in the first period the Caps appeared as if they were going to humiliate their hosts by deep in period two. Then you had the spectacle of the new captain fairly making a parade to the penalty box as frustration set in. Other thoughts:
- This is an amazing statistic: Shaone Morrisonn was on the ice for all seven of Tampa’s goals. All seven. Mike Green’s night wasn’t much better — he was on duty for six Lightning Bolt strikes.
- Tuesday was the first time the Caps were losing in the third period since the Gr8 earned the ‘C.’ Ovi picked up six PIMs in the third period when the game was sliding away, including two for unsportsmanlike conduct while being provoked by Steve Downie. Downie got a couple of cheap shots in during their first altercation, and Ovechkin did not seem to be seeking revenge after serving his first penalty. Downie hooked and slashed Alex right out of the box, the officials oblivious, leading to the captain’s first non-scoring, on-ice team leadership moment, aka dropping the gloves. Quite a sight. If the Caps weren’t going to win the game, it made more sense to energize and re-establish confidence among his teammates, as well as set a tone for Wednesday night in Sunrise. It also re-affirmed that the new captain would do anything for his team, including going toe-to-toe with other teams’ tough guys and bullies.
- Bradley’s interruption of said “altercation” was even more of a team-building moment, I thought. But for critics who have pointed to a lack of “heavyweight muscle” in the lineup to protect the team’s star players, the moment invited fresh discussions of the occasional weight class woes Bradley must endure in his extraordinary role on this team. Brads simply must battle all comers — and especially those who come after Ovi. It was simultaneously stirring and uplifting and discouraging to see him so defend his captian. One of these days he’s liable to get really bad hurt from his course-correcting ways; what then? Steckel also deserves applause for engaging Konopka (they have a history that dates back to the American League) in the dying minutes.
- Downie joins a growing perp’s lineup (Durco, Carcillo) of conspicuous antagonists who seem to feel no compunction for taking the remarkable liberties they do. Expect more such mischief.
- Two games after applauding his players on being in the top five of the league’s least penalized teams, Bruce Boudreau saw the Capitals take 23 PIMs not counting Bradley’s 27 minutes that went unserved because they were coincidental to Downie’s.
- Flat and undisciplined — that about sums up the effort by the visitors. I do believe there is notable virtue to be found in seeing how gamely the Caps battled while down 7-4 in the final frame’s final minutes. JoeB offered the reflection with about six minutes to go that he wasn’t so sure the game was over, which I think spoke to the resilience the team showed. But obviously it was too little too late.
- The second period rally was truly awesome to watch — a reminder that with this team’s firepower it is never truly out of a game — but the team dug itself a gigantic hole in the first period. Solid 60-minute efforts are needed against every team, and tonight they got the latter 40 and some rough stuff to boost confidence going into Sunrise tomorrow night.
- The strong second line, anchored by crafty Tomas Fleischmann, has been nothing short of spectacular over the past week. Since the unit has become a mainstay against Montreal on January 5, Laich has failed to contribute goals, but you have to believe that that’s temporary. In the four games the line has been together, Laich has two assists and is a +2. He has not tallied since December 28. The same no. 21 who was averaging a point per game through the first 20 games has failed to find chemistry with his more than capable teammates in the last 20-plus tilts. For a power play net-crashing specialist, Laich is underachieving statistically. But, he is crashing the net, and so long as he keeps doing that the goals will come, and efforts like his tonight remind me of how much desire he has to score the dirty goal for his team. Meanwhile, line-mates Sasha and Flash have exploded offensively. The Russian has five goals and two assists in his last four games. Flash has 1-4-5 in his last four games. This line combo has definitely ignited Semin’s offensive game, as was evident tonight by Fleischmann’s workhorse effort to deke around a defenseman and slide the puck to an open Sasha. Suggestions? Laich played on a line last year with Bradley and Steckel, that while not offensively productive, kept pucks in the offensive zone and occasionally grinded out the big goal. I’m betting the crease-crasher goes to the bank or the bakery really soon though.
- What a tremendous improvement offensively it has been for no. 28 on this revamped second line. After injuring his wrist early in the season, his game suffered. He wasn’t getting involved along the boards, his feet seemed a little flat and inactive, and he elected to pass more than shoot on most scoring chances. He’s been reignited by Fleischmann recently. Since going goal-less for six games in late December and early January, the Russian has turned it on. In the past 31 days, Semin has scored five times and had two two-goal games (all in the past week). Here’s hoping the guy who was fourth in points-per-game last season and a potential 50-goal scorer is back for good.
- More second line notes: Tomas Fleischmann was once again under .500 in the dot tonight, going 3-5. Capitals Insider alluded to it being easier at home versus away and that he must learn the proper away draw technique. Centers on the road must place their stick on the ice first in the NHL, a rule he’ll likely get used to as he continues play pivot.
- Michal Neuvirth had a poor game by his recent standards. Tonight was the fourth time he has allowed more than two goals and the third time he has allowed more than three in his nine games this season. Jose Theodore was only margianlly better in relief, and the confidence he gave coach Boudreau in his last start against Ottawa might have taken a hit tonight. He’ll likely play tomorrow, you have to think.
OK, we’re not concluding this file on a Downie-led downer. Shinny-spirited readers are sending us photos of their outdoor exploits this wondrously chilly January (keep ‘em coming!). This we received yesterday from reader Chris, whose shinny team assembled in Winchester over the weekend. He was thoughtful enough to apologize for the presence of a Flyers’ sweater in the image. What a grand backdrop, no?