House Of Horrors – Washington’s two visits to Buffalo’s First Niagara Center came exactly a month apart, and neither of them went well at all.
The Caps were drubbed 5-1 on Nov. 26 in Buffalo, the game that proved to be Bruce Boudreau’s last behind the Washington bench. After that game, Boudreau noted that his game plan was for the Caps to have a “quiet” first period and try to eke out a 1-0 or 2-1 win. That ploy failed when the Sabres struck for two first-period tallies.
Tonight, a “quiet” first would have been a panacea for the Caps.
Buffalo erupted for four goals on eight shots in the first period and cruised to a 4-2 win, leapfrogging the Capitals in the Eastern Conference standings in the process.
After two days off with no practice and an early morning flight, the Caps put themselves in a precarious position on the game’s first shift. Washington defenseman Roman Hamrlik backhanded the puck over the glass in his own end to earn a delay of game call just nine seconds after the opening puck drop, and Buffalo cashed in with the first of two power play tallies, taking a 1-0 lead on Jason Pominville’s goal just 51 seconds into the game.
Those two power play goals book-ended a pair of even-strength strikes. Buffalo led 2-0 before the Caps could register their first shot on goal of the contest.
“After a Christmas break,” begins Caps coach Dale Hunter, “usually [the game’s] decided in the first period. They came out and we made bad decisions; bad decisions with the puck and bad goals and it cost us the game.
“We came out with energy, but we made bad decisions. Bad decisions cost you goals and that’s what happened.”
“It definitely didn’t go our way by any means,” says Caps winger Matt Hendricks. “But we have to put the blame on us in this room. There’s no other way to go about it. We need to become a better team at the start of games. It’s been evident the last two games that that’s what has hurt us.”
Boxing Day Blues – Last year, the Caps earned a 3-2 road win in Carolina on the day after Christmas. It was their first road victory on Dec. 26 since an 8-2 victory over the Maple Leafs in Toronto in 1979.
Today’s Dec. 26 loss to the Sabres in Buffalo was the third for the Caps, who have been outscored 15-7 in three Boxing Day visits to western New York in franchise history.
Five years ago today, the Caps came into Buffalo to play the first game of a grueling stretch of schedule in which Washington was forced to play four games in a span of five nights. The Caps dug themselves an early hole in that one, too, surrendering an almost unfathomable six goals in a span of just 10:37 of the first period.
As they did tonight, the Caps came back to make the game somewhat respectable and they also shut down the Sabres the rest of the way. The Capitals ended up on the short end of a 6-3 score that night.
So, the Caps have been outscored 10-0 in the first period of their last two Boxing Day visits to Buffalo, and Washington has outscored the Sabres by a combined 5-0 the rest of the way in those two games.
Washington is now 12-11-3 all-time on Boxing Day and is 2-5 when playing on the road on Dec. 26.
Déjà Vu All Over Again – With the way the Caps struggled in their two visits to western New York this season, longtime fans of the team may be recalling the nascent days of the franchise when the Capitals were routinely throttled at the old Aud, a barn that proved vexing to many a visiting foe in those days.
In their first 22 visits to Buffalo, the Caps came away with a grand total of one victory, posting a 1-18-3 mark. Buffalo outscored Washington by a combined total of 105-51 in those 22 contests.
Failing In The First – Monday’s game in Buffalo marks the fourth time in their last eight road games that Washington has allowed its foe to put a crooked number on the scoreboard in the first period of the contest.
The Caps have allowed two or more goals in the first period of a road game a total of five times on the season.
“We can’t keep making it this tough on ourselves,” says Caps winger Troy Brouwer. “You’re not going to be able to come back against good teams, and in the playoffs it’s even harder to do it.
“For us, we’re having a little bit of trouble scoring 5-on-5 as it is. We need to make sure that we’re not putting ourselves in situations where late in the game we need to score two, three or even four goals.”
Washington has a record of 0-5 in those five games.
Stingy With The Shots – Washington has permitted fewer than 30 shots on goals 16 times now in 34 games thus far this season, including each of the last five games.
This is the first time since February the Caps have surrendered fewer than 30 shots on goal in five straight games. They turned the trick from Feb. 12-20, 2011.
From A Distance – The Caps actually outshot Buffalo 9-8 in the game’s first period, but Washington had just one scoring chance in the frame. Only two of the shots the Caps were credited with taking came from a distance of less than 29 feet.
The average length of Washington’s nine first-period shots on goal was 43.4 feet.
The Sabres also had just two first-period shots on net from inside 29 feet, but they scored on both of them. They also scored from 61 feet and from 34 feet to put the game away in the first 20 minutes.
Silver Lining – If there is a positive the Caps can take from Monday night’s loss to the Sabres, maybe it’s the strong play of goaltender Tomas Vokoun in a relief role.
Seeing game action for the first time in 13 days, Vokoun gave up a power play goal on the first shot he faced, but he successfully shut the door the rest of the way, stopping all 16 shots sent in his direction.
“It’s tough,” says Vokoun. “We stared sluggish and obviously they capitalized on their chances. They put me in, [and Buffalo scores] a quick goal. It’s a scramble in front of the net, I didn’t see the shot and it hit me in the armpit and went in. It’s nice to get on the ice, but it’s not a very good atmosphere here right now. It’s tough.”
The 13-day lapse between game action was the longest for Vokoun in five years, since he missed a stretch of 20 games because of a thumb injury in the first half of the 2006-07 season. He went 46 days in between assignments from Nov. 23, 2006 to Jan. 9, 2007.
“It’s hard,” says Vokoun of the length between his last two assignments. “But like I’ve told you before, it’s something where I don’t have control over it. I’m trying to deal with it as best as I can.”
First Strike – Matt Hendricks bagged his first goal of the season with a deflection of a Mathieu Perreault shot in the waning seconds of the second period. The goal was Hendricks’ first since last April 6 he he scored against Florida, a span of 30 regular season games.
First Strike – Buffalo blueliner Brayden McNabb notched the first goal of his NHL career at 14:14 of the first frame on a Sabres’ power play. McNabb victimized Vokoun after taking a feed from Brad Boyes, who did some stellar work along the right wing wall to maintain puck possession and get the puck to McNabb.
A month ago today, McNabb got into his first NHL game against the Capitals. Tonight, he picked up his first NHL goal and point in the 12th game of his career in the league.
Scoring Spread – Ten different Buffalo players accounted for the team’s four first-period goals. None of the Buffalo skaters managed more than a single point; all 10 had exactly one.
By The Numbers – Dennis Wideman led the Caps with 24:39 in ice time … Alex Ovechkin paced the Caps with five shots on net … Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer led Washington with five hits each … The Capitals won just 22 of the game’s 53 face-offs (42%) … Jordan Leopold led the Sabres with 24:20 in ice time … Drew Stafford led the Sabres with four shots on net … Christian Ehrhoff led Buffalo with four blocked shots.