Grinding One Out – Tonight’s Caps-Sabres game took on a familiar form around the midway point of the contest. Familiar, that is, to those who have witnessed previous games at the Verizon Center this month.
In three previous home games this month, the Caps let leads of either 3-1 or 3-0 evaporate completely before rebounding to win each of those games.
Tonight, they altered the pattern. The Caps took a 3-0 lead over the Sabres before Buffalo struck quickly for a pair that made it a 3-2 game midway through the second period. But that’s when the Caps tightened the reins and kept the Sabres at bay the rest of the way.
Washington earned a 4-2 win. The Capitals have now defeated all 11 Eastern Conference teams they’ve played this season. The Caps have yet to face Florida, Pittsburgh and Montreal.
“I was really happy,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau of his team’s performance after the game got tight. “I thought in the third period – except for their power play, we were really good defensively.”
There were moments of anxiety for the Caps as they nursed that one-goal lead through the latter half of the contest.
“We just had to settle down. There’s been so much talk about us not being able to play defensively. We started to get all excited on the bench. The veteran guys just said, ‘Relax, we’re playing a great game. Let’s get ‘er going.’ And we did.”
The CBS Line (remember the old days of Ben Clymer, Bradley and Brian Sutherby?) of Chimera, Bradley and Steckel was the team’s most consistently effective trio all night long. They got pucks deep, cycled, banged, drove the net, created scoring chances and were a handful for whichever Buffalo skaters they were out against.
Oh, and they scored two goals, accounting for all of Washington’s even-strength offense on this night.
“They were really good, I thought, tonight,” says Boudreau. “It’s funny. It’s the first quarter of the season. You’re trying to find things that are really going to click that you’re going to leave [together].
“We’re doing a little bit of experimenting with the lines. I’ve done the same thing every year. And then eventually, we get to where we’re pretty confident with what we have and then we just go with that the last half of the year.
“Right now, everybody plays with everybody. Steckel played a really good game and so did Bradley and Chimera. I thought they were our best line.”
Making His Mark – In his ninth NHL game, 20-year-old rookie pivot Johansson was tabbed to center for Ovechkin and Knuble. The kid didn’t find his way onto the scoresheet, but his 15:04 in ice time is the most he has skated in a game during his brief career. He had a couple of shots on goal and blocked a couple as well.
“He worked hard and he skated,” says Boudreau in reviewing Johansson’s I thought he did an okay job. I’ve got to imagine that for a young guy, there’s a lot of angst to playing with Alex. Because when you get the puck, [you’re thinking], ‘Do I skate with it? Do I pass it? Do I look for him?’ It takes a little bit of getting to know somebody, and we really haven’t had a lot of time to practice.”
It’s A Start – Tonight marked the third time in as many games the Caps scored the game’s first goal, the team’s longest streak of its kind this season. The Caps have outscored foes by a combined 6-1 in the first period of the last three contests.
No Seconds, Please – Even after being outscored 2-1 in the second period of tonight’s game with the Sabres, the Caps have outscored the opposition by a combined 27-17 this season. However, in the last three games, Washington has been on the short end of a 7-2 goal difference in the middle frame of its games.
Dozen – Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth recorded his league-leading 12th win tonight, winning his sixth straight decision to run his overall ledger to 12-3 on the season.
Neuvirth made 31 stops on the night, including each of the last 15 pucks sent in his direction. Five of the 10 third-period shots Neuvirth stared down came during a Buffalo power play midway through the final stanza.
Neuvirth is now two-thirds of the way to matching the Caps’ franchise record for wins in a season by a rookie goaltender. Jim Carey recorded 18 wins in the 48-game, lockout-shortened season of 1994-95. Neuvirth has picked up a dozen wins in Washington’s first 19 games on the 2010-11 schedule.
Economy – Washington has had a grand total of seven power play chances in its last four games. It is 3-for-7 (42.9%) on those rare opportunities. The Caps are 11-for-28 (39.3%) with the extra man in their last nine games.
Streak Stuff – Tonight’s triumph was Washington’s seventh in succession on home ice. The Capitals are now 10-1 at home this season.
Semin’s first period assist on Backstrom’s power play goal pushed Semin’s point streak to nine games (nine goals, eight assists) and Backstrom’s to four (two goals, five assists).
Semin’s streak is the longest by a Capital this season. Washington is 11-1-1 when he registers a point and 10-0 when he scores a goal.
On the Buffalo side, Derek Roy’s goal gives him a six-game svcoring streak (three goals, six assists) and Thomas Vanek’s helper pushes his scoring streak to five (two goals, five assists).
Gord’s Gold – The Capitals are now 11-0 in games in which Gordon is in the lineup.
Fire Away – Coming into tonight’s game, Ovechkin had just four shots on goal in the previous three games, the lowest total for any consecutive three games in his NHL career. He had seven shots in the previous four games, also the lowest for any four-game span in his career.
Prior to this season, Ovechkin’s fewest total shots on goal in a four-game period was nine, from Feb. 3-8, 2007 during his sophomore season in the NHL.
Ovechkin finished tonight’s game with four shots on goal, giving him eight in his last four games and 11 in his last five.
Thirty Threshold – Tonight’s game marked just the second time in the last 11 games that the stingy Capitals permitted as many as 30 shots on goal in a contest.
Power Supply – Buffalo’s power play has been relatively anemic this season. The Sabres entered the game with a 10.8% extra-man efficiency rate on the season, 28th in the NHL.
Even after getting Roy’s power play tally in tonight’s loss to the Capitals, the Sabres are 3-for-39 (7.7%) with the man advantage in their last 10 games. Buffalo is 1-for-29 against the rest of the league and 2-for-10 against the Caps in those last 10 games.
Get Well Soon – Caps television play-by-play man Joe Beninati was in the house but not behind the microphone for Wednesday’s game. After calling Tuesday’s Philadelphia-Montreal contest for Versus, the durable and hard-working “Joe. B.” came down with a case of laryngitis.
The confluence of a birthday, a visit to Montreal and a case of laryngitis can be hard on a man, so we wish Joe. B a speedy recovery and hope he’s back in his perch on Friday in Atlanta.
By The Numbers – Caps defenseman Mike Green led all skaters on both sides with 25:04 in ice time. It’s the 11th straight game in which he has paced all Washington skaters in that category … Steve Montador led all skaters on both sides with six blocked shots. Jeff Schultz led the Caps with three … The Capitals outhit Buffalo 23-11 on the night. Ovechkin led the way with four … The Capitals were charged with 10 giveaways to Buffalo’s one in the game … Buffalo’s Paul Gaustad re-took the league lead in face-off pct. with a 10-for-13 night (77%) in the circle. Gaustad is at 63.4% on the season while the Caps’ Steckel is third at 62.2% … Johansson led the Caps with a 10-for-15 (67%) night on the dots … Bradley led the Capitals with five shots on goal.