Pivotal Pivots – Washington got goals from each of its rookie centers and skated out of Buffalo with a hard-earned 2-1 win against the Sabres on Sunday afternoon.
The win evened the Capitals up at 2-2 on their five game road trip. The journey concludes with a Monday night date with the Penguins in Pittsburgh.
Washington got off to a daunting start when it failed to convert on any of four first-period power play chances, including a two-man advantage that lasted 95 seconds. The Caps fired 16 shots at Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller in the first period, and nine of them came on the Washington power play. But none of them found their way past Miller, and the Caps were all even heading into the game’s second frame.
It seems that usually when a team fails to convert on a lengthy two-man advantage, it ends up losing the game. That wasn’t the case with the Caps this afternoon.
“That’s what usually happens but I’m glad it didn’t happen,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “I looked after the first period because you get frustrated sometimes with the power play, and we had five unbelievable chances. We just knew Ryan Miller was in one of those zones and we had to persevere if we were going to succeed. We knew if he could see it he was going to stop it tonight.”
Needing a break or a good bounce, the Caps got one when Matt Hendricks’ second period soft dump-in to the right wing corner took an odd carom off a seam and kicked right to the front of the net. That’s where rookie Caps center Mathieu Perreault was, and he had just enough time and space with which to squeeze off a shot.
“I took a golf swing, pretty much, at it,” says Perreault. “The puck was bouncing so I just closed my eyes and took a golf swing and it went in.”
That goal was Perreault’s seventh of the season and his first in nearly three weeks.
After Buffalo drew even on a power play goal in the second, the two teams went into the third all even at 1-1. The Sabres got the better of the Caps early in the period, but Hendricks turned momentum in the Caps favor when he charged hard down the right wing wall midway through the frame, drawing an interference call on ex-Caps defenseman Shaone Morrisonn in the process.
Washington cashed in on the man advantage, its fifth of the afternoon. Alex Ovechkin stickhandled through a wall of Sabres at the Buffalo blueline and fired a shot from the right side. Miller made the save, but the puck kicked right out to Perreault on the left side, He launched a shot of his own, a blast that clicked off the stick of rookie center Marcus Johansson and into the net.
“It was big,” says Hendricks. “The timing of that second one was very crucial. It feels good to get that win, obviously. The power play would’ve liked to put a few more up on the board, but you’ve got to give Buffalo credit and you’ve got to give Miller credit. He made some big saves tonight for them.
“On the other hand, it’s two points in our back pocket and we feel a little bit – a lot bit – better about ourselves right now.”
With a goal and an assist, Perreault recorded his first two-point game since Feb. 1 vs. Montreal.
“This was a big game for us and myself,” says Perreault. “This was one of those games where I needed to come out great because I’ve been cold for a couple games. It was huge for me and the team.
Bounces hadn’t been going Washington’s way for much of the current road swing, but the Caps got a couple crucial ones today.
“Matty’s goal was a puck flipper,” says Boudreau, “and then that last goal went off Marcus or he would have stopped that shot, too. We got a little bit lucky but if you put enough shots at the net, usually good things happen.”
After going 1-4 in their previous five games – all against Western Conference foes – the Caps earned a big win back in their own time zone against a conference foe.
“For us, it’s huge,” says Boudreau. “Nobody seems to be winning – which is great – in the Eastern Conference. We want to get closer to Tampa. We don’t want to be in that race in the last five games where you’re dying, you need the win on the road to get into the playoffs. Hopefully we’d be beyond that. That’s where it was so huge.”
First One, Big One – Johansson’s goal was the first power play goal of his NHL career and the first game-winning goal of his NHL career.
“It was a great pass by Matty,” joked Johansson. “I just tried to get out of the way and it hit me. Sometimes, that’s all it takes. It was a good feeling. I think we worked hard to get it. It feels even better then.
“I don’t know if I tried to get out of the way. It was a reaction. It hit my stick and went in and that’s all that matters.”
It’s Miller Time – Despite making several tremendous saves – especially when Washington was on the power play – Miller was saddled with his fourth straight loss on home ice and his third straight regulation setback on the HSBC sheet.
The last time Miller lost three straight in regulation on home ice was nearly four years ago, from March 7-10, 2007.
Ice Time Point Men – With Mike Green and Tom Poti both sidelined with injuries, Ovechkin and John Carlson are the Caps’ only experienced power point men, and the twosome rolled up some huge ice time totals in the first because the Caps had four power plays and wasn’t able to score on any of them.
Ovechkin skated 10:20 and Carlson 10:46 in the game’s first frame, leaving the Caps in perilous position with 40 minutes left to play and another game in Pittsburgh on Monday night.
Boudreau did a solid job of managing the minutes of both the rest of the way. Ovechkin finished at 24:11 and Carlson at 24:29.
“I tried to short shift Alex during the game,” says Boudreau. “During the second and third period, every time there was a whistle I took that line off. We stopped Carly from penalty-killing or after we got it out we took him off right away just to give him a little bit of a rest because we knew that they’d played over 10 minutes [in the first] and I didn’t want to see two 30-minute games from those two players with a big game tomorrow night.”
Carlson knew he’d need to conserve some energy and yield some minutes later in the game.
“As a defenseman, you want to play all types of situations,” says the Caps’ rookie blueliner. “It just so happens that the power plays turned out like that. But you’ve got to be conscious of your shifts after that because it’s a lot of minutes to play, especially in one period. You don’t really think about tomorrow at all, it’s playing minute by minute and shift by shift.”
Tremendous Third – After allowing a third-period goal for each of the last five games for the first time all season, the Caps buckled down and blanked Buffalo in the game’s final frame today.
“We talked about going into the third that we had to have the will to persevere and the confidence that we could do it,” says Boudreau. “We were – up until about five games ago – maybe one of the best third-period clubs in the league at giving up goals. And then we started giving them up and we lost four out of five. I thought they dug deep and they blocked shots and they did what they had to do tonight. It was a hard-earned two points.”
Even after allowing nine third-period goals in their previous five games, the Caps entered Sunday’s game with the third lowest total (43) of third-period goals allowed on the season.
Shooting Gallery – The Caps had nine players with three or more shots on goal in Sunday’s game. Washington’s total of 34 shots on goal after two periods was higher than each of its previous six games and 19 of its previous 22.
Been A While – Today’s Caps-Sabres game marked the first meeting between the two clubs since they met twice in a five-day span back in mid-November.
The two teams have headed in opposite directions since the Caps beat the Sabres by a 4-2 count at Verizon Center on Nov. 17. Buffalo limped out of the Booth with a 7-10-3 mark that night, but has gone 20-15-3 since to lift itself back into legitimate playoff contention.
The Caps ran their record to a gaudy 14-4-1 mark that night in November, best in the Eastern Conference at the time. But Washington has fallen upon hard times since. They’ve now played 41 games since their previous meeting with the Sabres, exactly a half a season’s worth of games. The Capitals have won only 17 of those games (17-15-9).
Washington has been living off its hot start. The Caps’ pace over the last 41 games would produce just 86 points if maintained over a full season, and that’s not enough for a Stanley Cup playoff berth.
No Green – Washington raised its record to 5-7 in the dozen games in which Green has been out with injury.
The 36-year-old Daubenspeck spent the final two seasons of his lengthy pro career in the Caps’ organization, tending the twine for AHL Portland, AHL Hershey and ECHL South Carolina during that span. He played his collegiate hockey at University of Wisconsin where he formed a netminding duo with ex-Cap Jim Carey.
Daubenspeck went out on top, retiring after earning a Calder Cup championship ring with the Bears in 2005-06. A benefit fund has been established for Daubenspeck’s family; he has a one-year-old son and he and his wife Peggy have a second child on the way.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears finished up a busy weekend with a 5-0 home ice setback at the hands of the Charlotte Checkers on Sunday afternoon. The loss was Hershey's first via shutout this season.
Hershey was outshot 36-20 and Bears goaltender Braden Holtby surrendered all five goals, giving up one in the first and two each in the second and the third.
The loss leaves the second-place Bears 10 points behind front-running Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the East Division standings and four points ahead of third-place Charlotte.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays earned a 4-2 home ice win over the Greenville Road Warriors on Sunday at North Charleston Coliseum. Trent Campbell, Rob Ricci, Joe Finley and Pierre-Luc O’Brien scored to support the 25-save efforts of Shane Owen in the South Carolina cage.
Finley’s goal was his first of the season, and it proved to be the game-winner. With a fight against Greenville’s Brad Cole, Finley came an assist shy of picking up a Gordie Howe Hat Trick.
The win leaves the Stingrays just two points behind Greenville for the lead in the ECHL’s South Division.
By The Numbers – Carlson led all skaters on both sides in ice time and Ovechkin was second … Nicklas Backstrom was credited with three of the Capitals’ seven takeaways on the day … Tyler Sloan led the Caps with three blocked shots … Buffalo defensemen Tyler Myers and Mike Weber led all skaters on both sides with four hits each … Buffalo’s Jason Pominville was the game’s top face-off man, winning six of seven draws (86%) … Myers and Jordon Leopold paced the Sabres with three blocked shots each.
1 - 0 WSH
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 WSH
Interference - Goalkeeper