Finally – At the top of section 304 in the HSBC Arena on Saturday night, a large banner read: “Fans show up … why don’t you?”
After going winless (0-6-1) in their first seven home games of the 2010-11 season, the Buffalo Sabres finally made the home crowd happy with a 3-2 overtime win over the Capitals on Saturday night. Thomas Vanek’s highlight reel goal – his second tally of the night – with one minute remaining in overtime lifted the Sabres.
The Buffalo win stopped the Caps’ winning streak at six.
The fan(s) who hung that banner might argue that the Sabres didn’t show up until the second period of Saturday night’s game. With goaltender Ryan Miller starting for the first time in seven games, the Caps made it their mission to pour shots on the 2010 Vezina Trophy winner. The Capitals did so in the first, outshooting Buffalo 13-6 and putting consistent offensive zone pressure on the Sabres.
Only defenseman Karl Alzner was able to solve the Buffalo goaltender in the first, however. Taking advantage after struggling sophomore Buffalo blueliner Tyler Myers lost his footing in his own end, Alexander Semin set up Alzner’s point shot that eluded Miller for the defenseman’s first goal in more than 23 months, a span of 61 NHL games.
Washington’s Alex Ovechkin had a clear breakaway with about five minutes left in the first, but Miller waited out the Caps’ superstar and made a terrific stop to keep his team within a goal.
Washington abruptly and inexplicably stopped attacking in the second, turning in arguably its poorest middle stanza performance of the season. The Caps got into penalty trouble and managed only four shots on goal – none of them posing much a threat to Miller – in the second.
Buffalo drew even on a Steve Montador point shot that beat Caps goaltender Braden Holtby, and then the Sabres took the lead on a Vanek power play strike late in the period while Washington’s Tomas Fleischmann was serving a double-minor.
The Caps were whistled for three double-minors on the night, putting a burden on the Washington penalty-killing outfit with a late afternoon home game against Atlanta looming on Sunday.
Frustrated with his team’s second-period disappearing act, Caps coach Bruce Boudreau made wholesale changes to his line combinations, giving all four combos a facelift for the third period.
“It was disappointing,” admits Boudreau of his team’s second-period performance in Buffalo. “I’m really upset about how we played and how we came out. You talk about coming from behind all year and then you finally get the lead, you’re supposed to put the pedal down then and just keep going after them and break their well. But we sat back and took penalties and played really bad.”
The changes seemed to help, as the Capitals once again began sustaining some offensive zone pressure. John Erskine raced up the left wing wall and made a heady pinch just past the seven-minute mark of the third, and Jason Chimera collected the puck and fired it to Nicklas Backstrom in front. The Caps center settled the disc, waited out ex-teammate and Buffalo blueliner Shaone Morrisonn in front and calmly fired a flat-footed rocket high into the far corner of the net to even the game at 2-2.
“I think it was a great call by him,” says Backstrom of Boudreau’s line juggling. “It shouldn’t happen that we have [four] shots on goal in the second period. It’s kind of embarrassing.”
That was all the Caps’ attack had on this night; Miller saw just one more shot – a 57-footer from Backstrom in overtime – over the nearly 17 minutes of playing time that remained at that juncture.
Washington dodged some bullets late in the third with Backstrom off for a double-minor that bled into the overtime session. Vanek scored the game-winner after curling through the Capitals defense and eluding pokecheck tries from Washington defenseman John Carlson and goalie Braden Holtby.
Making the second start of his NHL career and his first on the road, Holtby helped the Caps come away with a point while making 24 stops.
“I thought it was three different periods, three different games,” says Boudreau of Saturday night’s contest. “I thought the first period, we were pretty good. I thought if Alex had scored on the breakaway, it might have been a different game. I thought the second period was our worst period of hockey that maybe I’ve seen since I’ve been here.
“In the third period, I thought we came out with a different attitude and we played a lot better. In the overtime, Vanek made a great play.”
The last time Miller returned from a long layoff because of injury, he missed 13 games with an ankle sprain late in the 2008-09 season. In his first game back after being on the sidelines for more than a month, Miller stopped 33 of 36 shots in a 5-3 home ice win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 27, 2009.
Offense From the Defense – Alzner’s goal gives the Caps a streak of seven straight games with at least one goal from a defenseman. After managing just one goal and 11 points in the team’s first 10 games this season, Washington blueliners have now combined for nine goals and 23 points in the team’s last seven games.
Rare Lead – Saturday’s game marked just the fifth time in 17 games that Washington scored the game’s first goal. It was just the third time this season the Caps have held a lead after the game’s first 20 minutes.
Washington also led after the first period in an Oct. 11 win over the Senators at Verizon Center and an Oct. 27 whitewashing of the Hurricanes in Raleigh.
Streak Stuff – Ovechkin’s eight-game scoring streak was halted. Semin pushed his streak to seven games (seven goals, seven assists) with an assist on Alzner’s goal.
Quickest to 10 at 22 – Caps goaltender Michal Neuvirth is the first goaltender in franchise history to reach 10 wins in the team’s first 16 games, but he has also joined a select group of just five goaltenders aged 22 or younger to reach the 10-win level by Nov. 15 in a given year.
Hockey Hall of Famer Grant Fuhr was the first NHL netminder aged 22 or younger to record 10 or more wins by Nov. 15 when he turned the trick for Edmonton in 1983-84. He was followed by Toronto’s Felix Potvin in 1993-94, Carolina’s Cam Ward in 2006-07 and Neuvirth this season.
Along with Neuvirth, rookie Philadelphia netminder Sergei Bobrovsky has reached the double-digit mark in victories before Nov. 15 this season. The 22-year-old Russian goaltender defeated the Florida Panthers on Saturday night for his 10th triumph of the season.
First Trip – Washington’s first trip to Buffalo in a given season has traditionally been a troublesome one. The Capitals have not won on their first trip of the season to Buffalo since 2002-03. That’s also the last time the Caps won both of their visits to western New York in the same campaign.
Grand Grier – Ex-Caps winger Mike Grier was honored by the Sabres prior to Saturday night’s game. The strong and swift winger recently played in the 1,000th game of his NHL career.
Grier is still going strong; he has two goals and four points and is plus-3 in his last five games, including a helper on Montador’s goal against the Caps in Saturday’s game.
Down On The Farm – A night after absorbing a 3-2 home ice loss at the hands of the Toronto Marlies, the AHL Hershey Bears hit the road for a Saturday night date with the Crunch in Syracuse.
Bears goaltender Dany Sabourin stopped all 24 shots he faced to earn the first Hershey shutout of the 2010-11 season. The Bears skated home with a 3-0 victory.
Ashton Rome (his fourth goal of the season), Andrew Gordon (his eighth) and Brian Willsie (his seventh) supplied the offense in support of Sabourin. Gordon’s goal came on the power play; he also had an assist. Willsie had a team-high six of Hershey’s 40 shots on goal for the night. Mathieu Perreault helped out with a pair of assists.
Hershey returns home to host the Binghamton Senators on Sunday at Giant Center.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays paid a visit to Reading for a Saturday night contest with the Royals. South Carolina came up on the short end of a 5-3 decision.
Stingrays netminder Jared DeMichiel stopped 27 of the 31 shots he faced on the night; Reading added a late empty-netter to account for the fifth goal.
Rob Ricci scored twice and Maxime Lacroix once in a losing effort for the Stingrays.
By The Numbers – Eleven of the 27 shots Holtby faced on the night came while Buffalo was on the power play … Backstrom won 11 of 12 face-offs (92%) on the night … Jeff Schultz blocked a team-high four shots … The breakaway bid was Ovechkin’s lone shot on goal of the night. He had four tries blocked and missed once … The Caps had three defensemen (Mike Green, Schultz and Carlson) log more than 24 minutes in ice time on the night. Alzner wasn’t far behind at 22:45. Both Carlson (22:20) and Alzner (20:33) racked up more than 20 minutes in even-strength ice time to lead the Caps on the night.
1 - 0 WSH
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 BUF
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 BUF
Delaying Game - Puck over glass
Hi stick - double minor
Hi stick - double minor