Back In The Saddle – Both the Capitals and the Sabres (who played and lost in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night) looked a little rusty and out of synch in the early going of Wednesday’s game, Washington’s first after the conclusion of the Olympic break. The Caps took a pair of early penalties before buttoning down nicely the rest of the way and skating off with a 3-1 victory in Buffalo. The win ended a three-game Washington skid (0-1-2).
After a scoreless first period, the Capitals drew first blood late in the second. Jeff Schultz’s point shot caromed off Eric Fehr and then Jason Chimera, resulting in the latter’s 13th goal of the season.
Just a minute later, Buffalo’s Jochen Hecht evened it up at 1-1 when he snapped a wrister past Caps goalie Jose Theodore. Hecht’s goal came after the Caps were unable to corral a loose puck in front of the Washington netminder.
Aside from the fluky turnover that led to Hecht’s goal, the Caps were airtight in their own end in the middle period and in most of the third, too.
“I told them that was our best game in 10 games and by far our best game defensively where we didn’t leave the goalie out to dry too many times,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “It was a good effort.”
The Caps squandered several strong scoring chances in the first 40 minutes against elite netminder Ryan Miller, playing in his first game since leading Team USA to a silver medal performance in the just completed 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games. Miller also made some good stops throughout the night.
Midway through the third period, Caps defenseman Mike Green netted the game-winner on a snapper from the slot. Caps center Boyd Gordon sealed the deal with a late empty-netter, a shot he fired from behind his own net, off the sideboards in the defensive zone and into the vacant cage at the other end of the sheet.
“I thought it was a good effort from us tonight,” says Gordon. “A lot better than the games we had before the break. We knew we were going to have to have some shots and traffic to get some goals on him. Obviously, he’s a great goaltender. I think the effort from all four lines was pretty good tonight.
“It was a good win in a tight game but we found a way to get the two points tonight.”
Washington allowed just four Buffalo shots on goal in the middle period and only 24 on the night. It was the fewest shots allowed by the Caps in a span of 22 games, since they surrendered 19 in a 2-1 loss to the Kings at Los Angeles on Jan. 2.
“We made sure that we played a 60-minute game,” says Green. “Besides a few letdowns there in the second and third, we pretty much shut them down in the neutral zone. It’s something that we’ve been working on during the break.”
Tough Town – Caps goaltender Jose Theodore continued his run of stellar play, stopping 23 of the 24 shots he faced in running his record to 21-7-6 on the season and 12-5-3 on the road. He also picked up a win in what has traditionally been a tough building for him (and for his teammates).
Entering Wednesday night’s game, Theodore held a career 2-8 mark with a 3.36 GAA and an .874 career save pct. against the Sabres at HSBC Arena. His Wednesday win over the Sabres in their building was just his second in that barn in more than a decade, since he recorded his first-ever win in Buffalo on Jan. 14, 2000.
Theodore is 11-0-2 in his last 13 appearances and has not been tagged with a regulation loss since Jan. 12 in Tampa Bay. Theodore’s last regulation loss in a game in which he started was back in 2009, a 6-2 setback to Carolina at Verizon Center on Dec. 28. Washington has not suffered a home ice setback of any kind since that game against the Hurricanes.
“It was good,” says Theodore of Washington’s win in its first game after the Olympic break. “I think we really had some good practices and went back to basics, and really focused on our defensive play. The last couple of games [before the break] we were playing pretty wide open hockey. Today was a real tight hockey game, the way you want to play in the playoffs and win those type of games.
“The second and third period, we picked it up. I’m really happy with the way we got the win. We played well defensively, we were disciplined for the most part of the game so it was a good win.”
Miller Time – Miller blanked the Caps at HSBC Arena on Dec. 9, stopping all 35 shots he faced. The Capitals needed to pour 39 shots on Miller in Wednesday’s game in order to get two past him. One Washington goal came on a deflection in front and the other on a clean shot from Green in the slot.
“I think those are the only goals that go in on that guy,” says Green, “where he can’t see it and it’s a quick one-timer. He made some great stops tonight that really kept their team in the game. It’s always a tough challenge against him.”
Even after tonight’s loss to the Caps, Miller has a 2.13 career GAA and a .927 save pct. against the Capitals on his home ice sheet. Chimera’s second period goal ended a stretch in which Miller had whitewashed Washington for 124:12 over a period of three games.
Flash – Wednesday’s addition of center Eric Belanger likely signals the shift of Tomas Fleischmann from center back to his left wing position. In what could be his final game at the pivot position for a while, Fleischmann made a sublime play to set up Green’s game-winning goal.
“I got the puck from him in the d-zone, and I just skated up,” recounts Fleischmann. “The guys were driving the net, Fehrsie and Chimmer, so I just held the puck and waited for Mike to open up. He got it and put it in, so it’s good.”
Al though he experienced some difficulty in the face-off circle during his stint at center, Fleischmann totaled four goals and 16 assists for 20 points in the 22 games since the shift was made. He was plus-4 defensively over that span.
Career Best – With a pair of assists in Wednesday’s game, Schultz now has 19 points (three goals, 16 assists) on the season. He has surpassed his single-season best in scoring, an 18-point (five goals, 13 assists) campaign as a sophomore in 2007-08.
Although he picked up the secondary assist on Green’s game-winner, Schultz went to the bench for a change and was on the bench by the time the red light went on.
By The Numbers – The victory was Washington’s 19th on the road this season, three shy of matching a franchise mark for most road wins in a campaign … The Caps outshot the Sabres 38-21 at even strength … Alex Ovechkin’s 18:42 in ice time was the least he has skated since he logged 17:27 in a win over Florida on Jan. 29. He is without a point in consecutive contests for just the second time this season … Schultz and David Steckel were the only Capitals not to record a shot on goal in Wednesday’s game … With four shots on goal in just 10:45 of work, Matt Ellis was the lone Sabre to record more than two shots on Theodore … The Capitals were just 21-for-55 (38%) in the face-off circle on the night.
Happy Birthday – To Caps winger Alexander Semin, born on March 3, 1984 and to longtime Caps winger and defensive stalwart Kelly Miller (Ryan’s cousin), born on March 3, 1963.
1 - 0 WSH
1 - 1 Tie