The Washington Capitals finished up the first half of their season on Tuesday night the exact way they started it, with a loss to a divisional foe.
Although the capitals did manage to earn a point for the 1-0 overtime loss to the first place Tampa Bay Lightning, they dropped to second in the Southeast division.
The Lightning served notice to Washington that this will not be another run away division title for the Capitals this year.
They also made it clear that they do not intend to stand pat, acquiring veteran goalie Dwayne Roloson from the Islanders for a Stanley Cup Run.
The Lightning aren't the only team in the division that could challenge the Caps for the Southeast crown
While the Capitals trail the Lightning by just one point for first place the Atlanta Thrashers trail Washington by just two points for second place.
The ramifications of a third place finish would be great. Third pace would mean a seed no higher than sixth and if another losing streak takes hold a seventh or even an eighth seed could be possible.
If that happens, I'm not so sure that anything less than a Stanley Cup appearance would bail GM George McPhee and Head Coach Bruce Boudreau out, allowing them to return next season.
There are still 41 games to play. Many of the games in the second half will have playoff type atmospheres to them. This could turn out to be a plus for the Capitals. They have yet to be tested for an entire season under Boudreau.
Last year the Flyers played playoff type hockey for the last month of the regular season. They made the playoffs on the last day of the season in a shootout win against the Rangers.
The experience payed off for a young Flyers team. Philadelphia parlayed a tough last month into a Stanley Cup Finals appearance. While they didn't win they are sure to go deep again this spring.
The Capitals point totals are virtually the same in the standings compared to the last two seasons. Through 41 games this season the Capitals have 52 points which is just three points less than they had through 41 games last season and five points less than two season ago.
However, it is a "less than" situation and that's not the improvement many Capitals fans expected this season. Many fans tolerated the gut wrenching seven game playoff losses on home ice the last two years, chalking it up to youth and inexperience and hoping they were learning from losing.
This has to be the year that all of it pays off or changes will occur.
The Capitals, under Boudreau have never been in a dog-fight for a division title for what looks to be an entire season this year.
Last year after 41 games both the Thrashers and Lightning trailed Washington by 12 points and two years ago the Caps began to pull away from the Carolina Hurricanes leading them by five points at the halfway point.
The Capitals are still young and still learning to deal with adversity.When Boudreau took over in Washington midway through the 07-08 campaign he led the Capitals as a Cinderella team from behind, winning the Southeast division title on the last day of the regular season.
They have been in first place almost wire to wire for two and a half straight seasons. That has all changed and the Capitals may be a better playoff team because of this up-coming experience.
What will happen in the second half? Will the Capitals do as Tampa did and acquire a veteran net-minder? Will Alexander Semin be re-signed or traded? All of these questions will be answered in the next 41 games.
Ted Leonsis, George McPhee and Bruce Boudreau have just as much work to do off of the ice as they do on it.
The Capitals, in my opinion are still the best team in the Southeast division. They have improved in many areas and have slipped in some. Here are my first half grades for the 23-12-6, second place Washington Capitals.