Lofty Perch – With their thrilling fall-from-ahead-then-come-from-behind victory over the Buffalo Sabres at Verizon Center on Saturday night, the Washington Capitals pushed their way past the Philadelphia Flyers and into the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
Alex Ovechkin’s overtime game-winner at 3:19 of the extra session propelled the Caps to a 5-4 win over the Sabres.
“It’s always nice when you score the overtime goal,” exudes Ovechkin. “I had a pretty good chance today to score goal, but I missed the net and the goalie played well, but it’s nice to score.”
Washington is now one point ahead of Philadelphia, which has a game in hand on the Capitals. The Flyers host the New York Rangers on Sunday afternoon.
Today marks the first time since Dec. 5 that the Caps occupied the top spot in the conference. From Nov. 7 through Dec. 5 Washington either led or shared the lead in the Eastern Conference standings.
Like Washington’s 4-3 overtime win over the Columbus Blue Jackets
“I’m more concerned with the process of how we played and I thought we were way too close to looking like last year,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. ”We’ve got to buckle down a little bit.”
The Capitals are now 16-3-1 in their last 20 games and they are 7-0-1 in their last eight at home.
Washington gave up a lead for the third time in as many games on this homestand.
“It’s something you don’t want to do,” admits Boudreau. “Protecting the lead for the most part of this year was a forte of ours. But you can tell the teams that we’ve played area really in their playoff mode, and it’s a great learning experience of seeing how teams are ramping it up for the playoffs when you play the Carolinas and Buffalo tonight.”
Neuvirth’s Night – Starting his second consecutive game, Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth won his 26th game of the season, third-most among NHL rookie goaltenders. He is 26-11-4 on the season.
Although he allowed three or more goals for the third time in as many games and the fourth time in his last five starts, Neuvirth is now 8-1 in his last 10 starts with a 2.31 GAA and a .924 save pct. during that span.
“Three of the goals we put in our own net,” observes Boudreau. “I thought Neuvy did a real good job of staying composed and not letting things get to him and just battling the battle.”
The 400 Club –Jason Arnott’s game-tying power play goal in the final minute of regulation was the 400th of his NHL career.
The Great Eight – Ovechkin’s overtime goal was his third overtime game-winner of the season and the 10th of his NHL career. He has twice as many overtime game-winners as any other Capital; Peter Bondra and Kelly Miller each had five.
Ovechkin’s goal was his 30th of the season, marking the sixth consecutive season in which he has reached that plateau. The club record is nine straight 30-goal seasons, set by Mike Gartner.
Ovechkin also recorded his 50th assist of the season, marking the fourth time in six NHL seasons that he has achieved that milestone.
With points in 16 of his last 19 games, Ovechkin has nine goals and 16 assists for 25 points during that span.
Power Surge – Washington had just two power play chances in Saturday’s game, marking the 29th time in 79 games that the Caps have had two or fewer power play chances in a game this season.
The Caps cashed in on both chances to stop a 1-for-17 extra-man skid that stretched back seven games. Washington climbs to 17th in the league in power play prowess with a 16.9% extra-man success rate.
Rookie Record – Caps defenseman John Carlson has been hot recently with two goals and nine points in his last nine games. With a pair of assists in Saturday’s game against the Sabres, Carlson has matched a single-season franchise record for most points by a rookie defenseman, a mark that has stood for nearly three decades.
Robert Picard notched 37 points as a rookie Washington rearguard in 1977-78 and Greg Theberge matched it in his freshman campaign of 1981-82. Carlson now has seven goals and 37 points in his rookie season, and he has three games in which to claim the record for his own.
Blueline Attrition – For the third straight game, the Caps were unable to get through the contest with the same six healthy defensemen who started it.
Dennis Wideman left Tuesday’s game against Carolina with a lower body injury early in the second period. John Erskine left Thursday’s game in the second period with an undisclosed injury. Tonight, Tyler Sloan’s night ended in the second period.
“He’s day-to-day,” says Boudreau of Sloan. “He got his bell rung, and we’ll see how it goes.”
Good Work – Defenseman Sean Collins was recalled from AHL Hershey after Erskine’s injury in Thursday’s game. Collins was in the lineup for Saturday’s game, seeing his first NHL action since Jan. 10, 2009, a span of nearly 27 months.
Collins played well on Saturday, logging 14:07 worth of ice time in his 16th career game in the league. He established his single-game career high in ice time when he skated 17:41 in a game against the Sabres on Dec. 26, 2008.
“I thought he did really good,” says Boudreau of Collins. “I thought he moved the puck well, I thought he competed. He did a really good job.”
“I thought that the guys that came in stepped up,” says veteran Caps defenseman Scott Hannan. “Collie [Collins] played great. It was a good game.”
Working Overtime – The Capitals needed overtime for the third consecutive game on the homestand and the 24th time this season. That matches a single-season franchise mark for the most overtime games in a campaign, set in 2009-10.
Close Shaves – The Caps have now won nine of their last 11 one-goal games. Washington has played 44 one-goal games this season, third-most in the NHL. Only Florida (48) and Carolina (47) have played more one-goal games than the Capitals.
Washington is now 25-8-11 in one goal games in 2010-11. Only Anaheim (28) has more wins in one-goal games than the Capitals.
Last Whistle – Longtime NHL referee Bill McCreary hangs up his whistle for good after tonight’s Capitals-Sabres game. McCreary officiated 1,737 regular season NHL games, the second most in NHL history. He is one of only four NHL referees who ever officiated 1,500 or more games, and he holds the league marks for most playoff games (297) and most Stanley Cup final games (44) officiated.
McCreary officiated his first game on Nov. 3, 1984, a Capitals-Devils game at USAir Arena in Landover, Md.
“I started here in 1984, over in the old Landover building [Capital Centre],” says McCreary, “and this is an exciting building to work in, just like that one was. Their fans here really support their team, so it was a real honor to finish here, and I think it was a pretty entertaining game in the end for everyone.”
McCreary called the first penalty of his lengthy NHL career just 31 seconds into that game when he whistled Washington’s Craig Laughlin for tripping.
The Capitals won that game 6-4. With a pair of goals and an assist, Mike Gartner was the game’s first star.
In 1984-85, there were a total of just five players aged 35 or older in the entire 21-team NHL. At 36 years of age, Detroit defenseman Brad Park was the oldest player in the league that season. His NHL career began in 1968-69.
In 2010-11, there have been 57 players aged 35 or older who’ve suited up in the NHL. There have been five aged 40 or older, with Mark Recchi (42) being the oldest.
If any of the rookies from the 2010-11 class manage to hang around into the 2030-31 season, McCreary’s career will have overlapped that of players whose careers spanned a total of eight decades.
Down On The Farm – A night after a 6-3 win over the Admirals in Norfolk, the Hershey Bears battled with the Ads in Norfolk again on Saturday. This one didn’t go the visitors’ way in the first stanza, as Hershey fell behind 4-1, giving up four unanswered strikes in the first frame after Kyle Greentree’s 29th goal of the season had staked them to a 1-0 lead in the game’s first minute.
Then the Bears bounced back. Hershey scored four unanswered tallies of its own in the second period, then rode out a scoreless third to take home a 5-4 win. Francois Bouchard (his 12th), Greentree (30th), Patrick McNeill (seventh) and Andrew Gordon (26th) scored for the Bears in the second.
Braden Holtby made 27 saves to earn the win, running his record to 15-9-2-2 on the season.
With the win, Hershey solidified its hold on second place in the East Division. The Bears lead third-place Charlotte by five points with three games remaining.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays went up against the Florida Everblades in Florida for a second straight night. The Stingrays earned a 5-4 win over the Blades on Friday night, and they came from behind to earn a 2-1 shootout win over the Everblades on Saturday.
South Carolina goalkeeper Todd Ford made 18 saves to push his record to 12-8-1-1 on the season.
The Stingrays finished second in the ECHL’s South Division with a record of 37-29-3-3. South Carolina will face Wheeling in the Kelly Cup playoffs.
By The Numbers – Knuble now has eight goals and a dozen points in his last 11 games … Karl Alzner skated 26:37 on the night to lead the Caps. It was the third straight game in which Alzner skated at least 24 minutes and the second time this season that he led the Caps in ice time … Caps defensemen Sloan and Collins had identical shift and ice time totals after both the first and second periods. Both skated seven shifts totaling 6:11 in the first period and six shifts totaling 4:41 in the second … Ovechkin led the Caps with seven shots on goal. Drew Stafford paced the Sabres with six shots on goal … Matt Bradley led the Caps with seven hits in just 10:59 of work. It’s the fourth time in the last six games that Bradley has led the Caps in hits … Scott Hannan and Jeff Schultz led the Caps with four blocked shots each.
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