Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A TWO-point night: Caps 4 - Sabres 2

Nice symmetry.

The Caps rang in the year doubling up the Ottawa Senators, 6-3, and they closed the year by doubling up another Northeast Division opponent – the Buffalo Sabres – by a 4-2 score last night.

And what a difference a year makes…

Three Stars:

Then (vs. Ottawa): Mike Green, Brooks Laich, Michael Nylander
Now (vs. Buffalo): Nicklas Backstrom, Viktor Kozlov, Paul Gaustad (BUF)

Scoring Leaders:

Then: Green (2-1-3), Laich (1-1-2), Nylander (1-1-2), Boyd Gordon (1-1-2)
Now: Backstrom (1-1-2), Kozlov (0-2-2), six players with one point


Then: Olaf Kolzig (31 saves, 34 shots)
Now: Jose Theodore (31 saves, 33 shots)


Then: Nylander (11 of 16/68.8%)
Now: Nylander (8 of 12/66.7%)

The big difference is that the first game/first win of 2008 gave the Caps a 16-19-3 record. The last game/last win of 2008 gives the Caps a 24-11-3 record. The club closed the year with a 52-23-6 record (110 points).

As for this one, there was a little bit of everything for the Caps. That first goal scored by Brooks Laich…it’s a pity one couldn’t award four assists for it. Ovechkin to Green at the left point… back to Ovechkin… to Kozlov in the high slot… to Backstrom at the right wing faceoff dot… to Laich at the top of the crease… goal. The entire sequence took all of seven seconds to execute. The Sabres on the ice should have been charged the price of a ticket for the view they had of what occurred.

If that goal was big on style points, the next one was just as sweet. David Steckel took a pass from Eric Fehr at the center red line and steamed into the Sabres zone, unleashing a slap shot that goalie Ryan Miller couldn’t steer into a corner the way he might have liked. The rebound came out all fat and happy on to Chris Bourque’s stick, and as the youngster would put it later, "I wasn't going to miss that one." He didn’t. He fired it past a still on the ice Miller, and Bourque had his first NHL goal.

Goal three started with Alex Ovechkin carrying the puck into the Sabre end, then Nylanderizing the play by peeling off at the right wing boards. He sent the puck to Green, who ripped a drive on goal. The puck squirted off into the left wing circle and onto Viktor Kozlov’s stick. Kozlov calmly eased the puck to Nicklas Backstrom, who from the top of the crease deposited it past Miller (ticket prices went up for the Sabres standing around watching events unfold).

Boyd Gordon completed the scoring for the Caps with a full-court…uh, length of the ice shorthanded empty-netter, and the Caps had another win, their 11th in 13 games, to finish December 11-3-0.


- Jose Theodore has established some order to the goaltending situation with his fourth straight win. He has stopped 95 of his last 101 shots faced (.941).

- Brooks Laich now has six goals in his last nine games. The Caps are 8-1-0. Coincidence? We don’t think so.

- Only three Capitals played more than 20 minutes last night (one of them was Tyler Sloan). Only Chris Bourque played less than ten, and that was by one tick of the clock. That’s getting everyone into the game.

- It would be nice though, to get Nylander more involved. In 14:43 last night, he had no shot attempts, no takeaways, no blocked shots, and a giveaway. But for his 8-of-12 faceoff performance, it would have been a mighty empty score sheet on his line of it.

- Matt Bradley had four hits to lead the team last night. Guess he’s feeling pretty good after his making the acquaintance of the side boards with his head on Sunday.

- Nine Caps had multiple shots on goal. For a team that usually has Ovechkin flirting with double digits in shots these days (he had four last night), that’s pretty remarkable.

- Buffalo had, and there is no other way to put this, a really bad game. A lot of standing around, a lot of coughing up the puck (18 giveaways). Even when they scored with less than eight minutes gone in the third to make it a 3-1 game, one didn’t have the feeling they were in it.

- This was the first time in five games a Buffalo game did not end with a one-goal result. The Sabres are 1-2-2 in those five games and are poised to slide out of the top eight. We’ll ask it…are these the first indications of Lindy Ruff losing this team? He’s been there almost as long as hot wings.

- We keep saying this, and we’ll keep saying it…if Eric Fehr ever cashes in on the opportunities he’s getting and making (he had six attempted shots last night, none of which found the back of the net), it could set off a string of scores.

And so ends 2008. It didn’t have a playoff series win to commend it, but 52 wins ain’t bad. It’s worth noting that mighty Detroit didn’t have as many (they can console themselves by spending time polishing that Cup they won). And to finish the year by winning in a city that has given the Caps fits over recent years makes it especially satisfying. Great job, boys.

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