Third Kill – Tonight’s game between the Caps and Sabres pitted a pair of teams that have been at or near the top of their division all season, but have been winless in their last three. Both clubs came in on the heels of a loss to the Senators at Ottawa. The Caps were 0-1-2 in their last three while Buffalo was 0-2-1 in its previous three.
Washington stopped its skid with a hard-earned 2-0 win over the Sabres.
Buffalo got the best of play early, but Caps goaltender Semyon Varlamov had an answer for each of the Sabres’ first five shots. Alex Ovechkin got the Caps on the board first with an end-to-end rush that culminated with a sharp wrist shot that went under the blocker of Buffalo netminder Ryan Miller.
For the rest of the first two periods, the two teams traded chances, missed opportunities and strong saves by both goaltenders.
“Miller might not have had the flurries,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau, “but he made some unbelievable saves when we had some great chances where I thought it could have been two or three to nothing at one point (before we scored the second goal). But Varly was solid. It was like he was saying ‘I am not letting this happen to me again in the third period.’”
For the second game in a row, the Caps played penalty-free hockey for the first 40 minutes. Washington has surrendered 13 of its 21 power-play goals against in the third period and later this season, but it successfully snuffed five minutes worth of Buffalo power play time in the final frame tonight to ice the win.
Taking Charge – Starting a third straight game for the first time in his NHL career, Varlamov notched his first career regular season shutout. He authored two postseason whitewashes in the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Varlamov entered the game with a .935 November save pct., the fifth-best mark in the league over that span.
He is unbeaten in regulation (4-0-2) in his last six games and has forged a 1.48 GAA and a .949 save pct. during that span.
Blueline Shuffle – Caps defenseman Tom Poti has missed the team’s last three games with an upper body injury. Defenseman Shaone Morrisonn has been on the sidelines for the team’s last three games because of an upper body injury.
In the absence of Poti, who averages 21:48 a night in ice time, and Morrisonn, who logs an average of 17:10 a game, the Caps went with a third defensive pairing of Tyler Sloan and John Carlson in road games at Toronto on Saturday and Ottawa on Monday. Sloan has played 41 games in the NHL and the 19-year-old Carlson has logged three.
With Poti and Morrisonn out of the lineup, Mike Green skated 31:38 in Toronto and 27:37 in Ottawa. Neither Sloan nor Carlson logged more than 15 minutes as the Caps put more of a burden on Green, Jeff Schultz and Brian Pothier in those road contests.
On Tuesday, the Caps returned Carlson to AHL Hershey and recalled Karl Alzner from the Bears. They also got Milan Jurcina back from injured reserve after a two-week absence.
Having Alzner and Jurcina on the ice as the team’s second pair for Wednesday’s game against Buffalo made a significant difference in the way the team played on the ice and in the way the defensemen’s minutes were managed.
Alzner was third among Caps defensemen with 20:15, and he played extremely well in his first NHL action of the season. Jurcina skated 19:18, a shade over his average of 17:50. The presence of that pair enabled the Caps to shrink Green’s workload to a more manageable 23:27.
After allowing nearly 40 shots on goal in each of their previous two games, the Caps limited Buffalo to just 25 shots on goal in Wednesday’s game.
Icing On The Cake – The Caps got a key insurance goal from Eric Fehr late in the third after Buffalo was called for icing the puck. Six seconds after Brendan Morrison won the ensuing face-off in the Sabres’ zone, he set Fehr up for a great chance in front. Fehr buried it to give Washington some breathing room.
“We wanted to make sure we got another goal,” says Fehr. “We didn’t want to rely on that [one goal lead] going down [through the third period]. We’ve had a little bit of penalty troubles and we wanted to make sure we had a little bit of insurance. The guys were fighting hard. We didn’t let up. In the last couple of games we sat back and let the other team take the game to us. Tonight, we kept skating and kept moving our feet.”
Fehr now has seven points (four goals, three assists) in his last 11 games. Morrison has nine points (four goals, five assists) in his last 10 contests.
Eight Train – Ovechkin was assessed the game’s first penalty, a boarding major and an accompanying game misconduct for hitting Buffalo’s Patrick Kaleta into the boards at 3:38 of the third period. The infraction appeared to be unduly harsh; maybe a two-minute minor would have been warranted, and maybe charging would have been a more appropriate call than boarding.
“We just watched it a half a dozen times and he hits him in the shoulder, not the side,” says Boudreau. “So, it might have warranted a two-minute penalty, but I don’t think it warranted anything more than that.
“[Kaleta] was looking at him and he saw him out of the corner of his eye and Alex [Ovechkin] hit him in [the left] shoulder; he didn’t hit the letters, he didn’t hit the numbers, so I don’t anticipate anything happening. But I can see where the refs get concerned because there is so much media talk about this lately.”
Ovechkin’s first-period goal was his ninth initial frame strike of the season, and his sixth straight first-period goal. He leads the league in that department. Ovi has played in 19 games now and he has scored the Caps’ first goal in nine of those contests and the game’s first in six, tied for NHL lead.
The goal was Ovechkin’s 13th even-strength marker of the season, vaulting him into first place in the league standings in that department.
Ovechkin has 118 career goals at home and 118 on the road. It was Ovechkin’s 150th career even-strength goal.
Ovechkin’s goal on Wednesday was the 10th of his career against Miller. It’s the most he has scored against any goalie outside the Southeast Division. Ovechkin has beaten Atlanta’s Kari Lehtonen 16 times and Carolina’s Cam Ward on 11 occasions.
Wednesday’s Ovechkin tally was his first on home ice since Oct. 30 against the Islanders.
The Capitals are now 8-0-3 in games in which Ovechkin scores a goal this season.
First Strike – Ovechkin’s first-period goal came on Washington’s first shot on goal of the evening. It marks the fifth time in 25 games that the Capitals have scored on their first shot of the game.
The Caps have scored the game’s first goal in 19 of 25 games. They have outscored the opposition 30-123 in the first period this season and they’ve scored at least one first-period tally in 21 of 25 games.
Green Streak -- Green recorded an assist on Fehr’s third period goal to extend his point streak to eight games. Green is the only player in the NHL with two point streaks of seven-plus games this season; he has points in 17 of his last 19 games. Green’s 25 points on the year are tied for the league lead among defensemen and he leads the Capitals in scoring in November with 12 points in 10 games.
Draw Men – Tonight’s game pitted the league’s top two face-off men this season. Buffalo’s Paul Gaustad (63.3%) entered the game as the league’s No. 1 man in the circle while Washington’s David Steckel (61.4%) was just behind him in second place.
Gaustad won just four of nine draws (44%) on the night while Steckel rolled up a gaudy 14-of-15 (93%) for the game.
By virtue of his strong night on the dot, Steckel pulled ever closer to Gaustad for the top spot. Gaustad is now at 62.7% and Steckel is at 62.6% for the season.
Powerless – Tonight’s game was the first regular season game in which Washington did not have a power play since April 13, 2002 against New Jersey in the final game of the 2001-02 campaign.
Happy Turkey Day – For the second time in as many seasons, Karl Alzner was recalled from AHL Hershey to play in his first NHL game of the season on the night before Thanksgiving.
“[Thanksgiving] is one of my favorite days of the year,” says Alzner, “not only because you get to eat good food, but also because I’m fortunate to get a chance to play in the NHL.
“Hopefully next year I won’t have to worry about getting called up for Thanksgiving. I’ll already be up.”
Zeroes – The Caps recorded the first of their two shutouts of the 2008-09 season against Montreal on the night after Thanksgiving. They notched their first blanking of the 2009-10 season on the night before Thanksgiving.
This Day In NHL History – Ex-Caps enforcer Craig Berube netted his first NHL goal on this date in 1987 while skating for the Philadelphia Flyers against the Sabres.
By The Numbers – Ovechkin laid three hits in the first period … Brian Pothier dished out three hits in the second frame and led the Caps with four on the night … Washington had nine shots on goal in the second period, but it also had 13 shots blocked and it missed the net with six tries in the middle frame … Steckel won all five of his draws in the first two periods. He went 9-1 in the third.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears hosted the Providence Bruins at Giant Center on Wednesday night. The Bears fell, 4-1.
Hershey grabbed an early lead on Boyd Kane’s sixth of the season – with help from Alexandre Giroux and John Carlson – at 7:20 of the first. But that was as good as it would get for the home team.
The P-Bruins roared back with a pair of their own, scoring twice in a span of 3:06 late in the first to take the lead. Providence added two more in the third, the last of which was an empty-netter.
Hershey is now 13-6-0-1 on the season. It leads second-place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Albany by five points in the AHL’s East Division standings.
Tonight’s game starts a busy stretch of four games in five nights for the Bears over the holiday weekend. Hershey travels to Adirondack for a Friday game in Glens Falls, then returns home to host Adirondack at the Giant Center on Saturday. Hershey entertains Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Sunday.
1 - 0 WSH