For the second time in as many games, the Capitals struck first in Friday night’s pre-season tilt against the Buffalo Sabres. And for the second time in as many games, they found themselves trailing in the game before they were able to build on that first marker.
Unlike Wednesday night’s 4-1 loss to the Predators in Nashville however, this time the Caps showed some resilience and earned a 4-3 shootout win. Washington is now 2-3-1 in the 2011 pre-season.
“That was the first time we had most of our guys playing,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau, “and we were playing a very good Eastern Conference team and we wanted to gain confidence in ourselves. We know we’re pretty good when we play as hard as we can.”
Buffalo needed all of 20 seconds to draw even. Jason Pominville was left with too much time and space at the top of the paint to the left of Caps goaltender Tomas Vokoun, and he was able to easily tap home a feed from Sabres center Luke Adam.
The Sabres went up 2-1 in the penultimate minute of the first period when Vanek camped just off the paint to Vokoun’s right. Buffalo blueliner Christian Ehrhoff fired a perfect slap pass and Vanek deftly directed the puck behind Vokoun.
Midway through the second, the Capitals drew even at 2-2 on a power play with blueliner Tyler Myers in the box for Buffalo. Ovechkin’s bomb from the left dot trickled through Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller, and Caps defenseman Mike Green was there to jimmy the puck over the line.
Vanek struck again less than four minutes later to restore Buffalo’s one-goal lead at 3-2. Parked directly in front of Vokoun, Vanek was in perfect position to tip Mike Weber’s shot from center point past Vokoun at 13:54.
Washington came out hard in the third, and its offensive zone tenacity finally paid off when a Jeff Halpern face-off win in the offensive zone resulted in a Green point blast and Matt Hendricks pouncing upon – and burying – the rebound at 13:33.
It was good to see the Hendricks-Halpern-Beagle unit get rewarded. That trio has been arguably Washington’s most consistent forward unit during the preseason.
“Beags and Halpy both work really hard,” says Hendricks. “If we stick to the systems and play the right way, we tend to get some opportunities. I was just trying to follow Halpy’s lead out there and keep working and we got one. It was a nice feeling.”
Washington’s third period performance might have been its best in a single stanza during the pre-season.
“I thought everybody played well in the third, from Vokoun right up through our [defense] and right up through the forwards,” says Hendricks. “We gave Miller a lot of rubber there at the end of the game and a lot of traffic. The team is really starting to come together and I think our system work is getting better and better every day.”
The Caps outshot the Sabres 15-3 in the final frame.
“I think we learned by our mistakes in the first couple of periods,” says Brouwer. “We weren’t sustaining a forecheck because we weren’t making their d-men turn and getting pucks behind them. We came in [after the second period] and we talked about it and we realized that dangling and turning pucks over at the blueline aren’t what we need right now. We need to get pucks deep and establish a foreheck. That’s when we’re going to start having success.”
Wideman led the sextet with 23:33 in ice time while Schultz was low man at 18:04. That’s a very tight spread of ice time among six blueliners, especially for an overtime game with nine minor penalties that resulted in a decent amount of special teams play.
Wideman paced all Caps defensemen with 3:40 in power play time and Hamrlik led the way with 3:43 in shorthanded ice. Green logged 19:42 in even-strength ice, tops among Washington defensemen.
“I love it,” says Green of playing with the other five. “It’s just the flow, and everybody has their roles. As soon as we can all collectively as a group too, as defensemen, come together and prefect our roles, we’re going to be great back there.”
Win Column – Tonight’s victory was the first for Vokoun in a Washington sweater. He had been 0-2 with a 3.53 GAA in his two prior pre-season starts.
Handful – The Buffalo frontline trio of Adam between Vanek and Pominville proved to be a handful for the Caps. That unit accounted for all of Buffalo’s offense and each of the three finished the night at plus-3.
By The Numbers – Beagle led the Caps with three blocked shots. Weber led Buffalo with five … Ovechkin, Brouwer and Beagle combined to lead the Caps with four hits each … Washington outfired Buffalo 68-43 in attempted shots on goal. The Caps had 32 on net, 21 that were blocked and 15 that missed. The Sabres had 24 on goal, 11 that were blocked and eight that missed the mark.