Buffalo Choir Boys – In the first 169-plus minutes of hockey played between the Capitals and Sabres this season, the Capitals had exactly one power play opportunity against Buffalo. The saintly Sabres suddenly fell off the wagon in the third period of Wednesday night’s game at Verizon Center, and the Caps connected on a pair of power play tallies in a span of 75 seconds to salt away a 5-2 win against the top team in the NHL’s Northwest Division.
Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller blanked the Caps earlier this month, but Washington put the screws to him early. Nicklas Backstrom scored on Washington’s first shot on goal of the evening and Caps defenseman Mike Green added another less than six minutes later.
Washington has faced Miller enough to know the importance of getting an early goal or two against him.
“Well, when a team shuts you out the previous time, it's pretty important for your confidence to go out there and score a goal early,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “I thought we played a perfect first period. You'd like to grab that one and keep it. Getting two goals on him, we talked about, you have to play solid defense because you aren't going to get a lot more. When we got the third [goal], I thought we may have had enough. I was happy to see the fourth and fifth [goals] go in, too.”
After the Caps claimed an early 2-0 lead in a dominant first-period performance, the Sabres predictably rebounded to twice pull within a goal. Buffalo fired 20 second-period shots on the Washington net, matching the most in a single stanza against the Capitals this season.
Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth stopped 18 of those shots, and the Sabres were never able to get the equalizer. The game hung in the balance until Washington’s Tomas Fleischmann used his speed to draw a pair of penalties 69 seconds apart midway through the third period.
The second of those infractions – a tripping call to Sabres center Paul Gaustad – gave the Caps twice as many man-advantage opportunities as they’d had in the previous eight-plus periods against the Sabres this season. Owning a two-man advantage of 51 seconds in duration (Buffalo’s Craig Rivet was already in the box for hooking Fleischmann), Caps coach Bruce Boudreau called his timeout.
Twenty-six seconds later, Backstrom banged home his second goal of the night to give the Caps some breathing room with a 4-2 lead. Washington then went for the jugular as Alex Ovechkin fired in his 24th goal of the season.
Nick On Fire – After scoring four goals in his first 26 games this season, Backstrom now has 10 goals in his last 11 games. He has eight goals this month. Only Florida’s Stephen Weiss (10) has more goals in the month of December.
Moving Up – Despite missing eight games this season, Ovechkin owns sole possession of second place in the NHL’s goal scoring race. With 24 tallies on the season, he trails Marian Gaborik of the New York Rangers by just two.
Wednesday marked Ovechkin’s second consecutive three-point game. With 44 points in 29 games, Ovi is fifth in the NHL’s scoring race and is just seven points off the pace being set by San Jose’s Joe Thornton.
At plus-18, Ovechkin is second in the league only to New Jersey’s Zach Parise (plus-20).
Ovechkin’s goal tonight was his first at Verizon Center since Nov. 25, which also came against Miller. He had six road goals in between those two tallies.
Ovechkin has two goals against Miller this season and 11 for his career. That’s the most goals he has scored against any goaltender that does not reside in the Southeast Division.
Positive Touch – Ovechkin is not the only Capital who ranks among the NHL’s leaders in plus/minus. Defenseman Jeff Schultz is tied for third at plus-16, center Brendan Morrison is tied for fifth at plus-15, blueliner Green is tied for eighth at plus-14, Backstrom is tied for 11th at plus-13, defenseman John Erskine is tied for 17th at plus-12, and winger Eric Fehr and defenseman Brian Pothier are tied for 22nd in the NHL at plus-11.
Double Digits – Morrison notched his 10th goal of the season in the second period of tonight’s game. He joins Ovechkin, Fleischmann, Alexander Semin, Backstrom and Brooks Laich as the sixth Capital to reach the double-digit level in goals this season. No team in the league has as many players with 10 or more goals.
Multiple Men – Six Capitals have combined for 11 multiple-goal games in Washington’s last 12 games. Backstrom has three, Ovechkin, Fleischmann and Semin have two each and Eric Fehr and Mike Green each have one.
Nine Capitals have now combined for 27 two-goal games in the team’s 37 games this season, but no Cap has managed a hat trick yet. No other team in the league has more than 16 multiple-goal games.
Draw Men – Tonight’s tilt featured the top two face-off men in the league in Buffalo’s Paul Gaustad (65% coming in) and Washington’s David Steckel (61%).
Gaustad won 12 of 20 (60%) on the night while Steckel won eight of 14 (57%). The two face-off titans split the six draws they took against one another.
Back to Back, Jack – Neuvirth earned consecutive starts for the first time in his NHL career, and he responded by stopping 32 of the 34 shots he faced to earn a second consecutive win.
The victory was Neuvirth’s first on home ice this season.
Century City – Fleischmann recorded the 100th point of his NHL career with an assist on Morrison’s goal.
Buffalo Three or Below – The Caps put half a sawbuck’s worth of goals behind Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller tonight, ending a streak in which the Sabres had allowed three or fewer goals in 15 straight games. That streak was Buffalo’s longest since it concluded the 1998-99 season with 17 straight games with three or fewer goals against. The Sabres advanced to the Stanley Cup final that season, bowing to the Dallas Stars in a seven-game series.
King Of The Road – Miller entered tonight’s game with a sparkling 10-3 road record this season, to go along with a stellar 1.82 GAA and a lofty .942 save pct. His road GAA and save pct. are both tops in the NHL this season among those goalies with at least 10 road starts.
Tonight marks the first time in 14 road starts that Miller has surrendered more than three goals in a road game. He had allowed as many as three just twice in his previous 13 road starts of 2009-10.
Wizard of the Whitewash – Miller blanked the Caps in his last game against Washington, a 3-0 whitewash on Dec. 9 in Buffalo. In addition to his 16 career NHL shutouts, Miller authored a landmark blanking with one of his 15 career AHL shutouts. He holds the distinction of authoring the first shutout in Giant Center history when he blanked the Bears during the 2002-03 AHL season.
By The Numbers – The Caps won just six of the 22 (27%) first-period draws in tonight’s game. Washington rebounded to take 16 of the 24 (67%) second-period draws … Buffalo had four shots on goal in the first; the Caps blocked 11 Sabres shots and four more bids missed altogether … Eight different Caps blocked shots in the first period and 13 different Capitals recorded at least one blocked shot on the night … The Sabres’ Steve Montador accounted for three of Buffalo’s first-period blocked shots … Schultz paced the Caps with four blocked shots.
1 - 0 WSH
2 - 0 WSH
2 - 1 WSH
3 - 1 WSH
3 - 2 WSH
4 - 2 WSH