Through the first 16 games of the season, perhaps no player has performed as consistently for the Capitals as Alexander Semin. A team-high 12 goals and 21 points, combined with a savvy ability on the penalty kill and more disciplined play, has helped the winger, often criticized in previous seasons for uneven play, stand out for all the right reasons early in the year.
You can read more about Semin's second hat trick in nine games and a combined 12-point effort by him, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom that led the Capitals in a 6-3 victory over Tampa Bay for their sixth straight win, in my story for this morning's paper.
Michal Neuvirth might not have had the strongest first period, but then again neither did his teammates. The 22-year-old goaltender has exhibited the tendency to improve as a game progresses, though, and the same was true against Tampa Bay. Neuvirth gave up many juicy rebounds, especially early, including one that led to the Lightning's first goal.
But for the most part after that Neuvirth settled down and made sure that Tampa Bay couldn't jump out to a significant lead before Washington got its offense and forecheck on track. He stopped 38 of 41 Lightning shots.
"He's been really good for us," Backstrom said. "We needed it. Hopefully he can continue playing the way he does and we can keep scoring too."
Said Coach Bruce Boudreau: "He does look like, as the more important the game gets, he settles down and buckles down, too. It's like the rest of the team."
On to other notes and quotes from the Capitals win against the Lightning:
--Boudreau said he expects Boyd Gordon, who only played 1:42 after suffering a lower-body injury early in the first period, to be out a week. He wasn't sure when the injury occurred but that it could have been when Gordon collided with Tampa Bay defenseman Matt Smaby on an icing call.
"He said he's had this before, the same type of injury and it's usually a week," Boudreau said. "I don't know when it happened but I think that might be it."
--Another day and another first goal given up by the Caps. This is the 12th time in 16 games that they've allowed an opposing team to score first but they're 9-3 when they do. So while it's obviously a trend Washington would like to discontinue, it's not something that frightens them either. The Capitals have outscored their opponents 17-2 in the second period while on this six-game winning streak.
"They got crap in between periods and they came out," Boudreau said of the change in play at the start of this second period. "We weren't playing properly. When we're getting it in [the offensive zone] and only one man is going it's easy for their D to get it, move it out and we're caught in between. The first 10 minutes of the second period we had two men [forechecking]. We changed some tactics up against their neutral zone and I think we tired at the end of the second period because we were forechecking pretty hard the first half. It's something you get used to."
--David Steckel had a great night in the faceoff circle, winning 20 of 29 draws for the most faceoff victories by a Capital since Jeff Halpern won 21 on Nov. 6, 2005, against Toronto. At the end of the second period he had only lost two of 16.
--In his first game back in the lineup after not suiting up since Oct. 21 because of a groin injury, Tom Poti played 16:43 and scored his first goal of the season to tie the game 1-1 in the second period.
--Matt Bradley got the hard hat tonight. After the game Boudreau said he never got a full explanation from the referees as to why Adam Hall wasn't given an extra penalty for starting a fight with Bradley, after the latter dished out a clean hit on Tampa Bay's Mike Lundin. Both Bradley and Hall received five-minute fighting majors.
"I thought there was distance traveled," Boudreau said. "He traveled a long ways and I guess the thing that didn't make it [an extra penalty] is Brads saw him coming and was ready for it, but it was because the guy traveled so far. I don't know if it's an instigator; I just thought it was a clean hit and a good hit and a guy didn't get hurt and whatever. That this guy came and started the fight, just give him an extra two or something I thought would have been the right call."
--Tampa Bay captain Vincent Lecavalier suffered a non-displaced fracture in his right hand in the first period against the Capitals. He's expected to miss a minimum of three weeks, Lightning Coach Guy Boucher said.--A well-deserved congratulations to Capitals radio play-by-play man Steve Kolbe, who called his 1,000th NHL game Thursday night.
--The Capitals return to the ice tomorrow at 11 a.m. for an optional skate before heading to Buffalo.