Saturday, November 13, 2010

A ONE-point Night -- Game 17: Sabres 3 - Caps 2 (OT)




That’s how the Washington Capitals saw their six-game winning streak and five-game extra time streak ended tonight as the Buffalo Sabres won their first game on home ice this season, 3-2, in overtime.

It ended with Thomas Vanek collecting the puck in the neutral zone, whereupon he circled into the Caps’ zone with John Carlson back. Carlson tried to sweep the puck off Vanek’s stick, but failed as the Sabres’ forward finessed the puck around Carlson to spring him in on goalie Braden Hotlby. The Caps’ goalie then tried to poke the puck off Vanek’s stick, but missed, and in doing so took himself to the ice and leaving him helpless to stop Vanek as he skated wide and backhanded the puck into the net to the delight of the HSBC Arena crowd.

But the Caps did earn a standings point for the seventh straight game, courtesy of Nicklas Backstrom, who scored seven minutes into the third period on a fine all around play by Backstrom, John Erskine, and Jason Chimera. Erskine got things started by by jumping up along the left wing boards and outmaneuvering Mike Grier to keep the puck in the offensive zone (as this screen capture from shows)...

Chimera collected the loose puck at the top of the left wing circle and instead of firing it on goalie Ryan Miller, slid the puck over to Backstrom who wound up for a slap shot...

Backstrom recognized, though, that he had time and a lot of space, so he hesitated just a moment to get Shaone Morrisonn to go to the ice to try to block the shot and Miller to drop into his butterfly...

Backstrom then fired and beat both Morrisonn and Miller to allow the Caps to escape with a point that they should not have earned...

That they did so was in part due to the play at the other end of the ice of goalie Braden Holtby, who looked solid once more in net. He stopped 21 of 23 shots in regulation, allowing only Steve Montador and Vanek to beat him. It was also due to an inspiring performance by the Caps’ penalty killers, who killed off two of three four-minute double minor penalties and allowed only one power play goal in seven power play chances for the Sabres.

All of that overshadowed Karl Alzner cranking up and rifling one into the back of the net in the first period to give the Caps a rare first-goal, first period lead. It was Alzner’s first goal of the season, the sixth Caps defenseman to score a goal in the last seven games (only Jeff Schultz has failed to light the lamp).

Other stuff…

-- Between Alzner’s goal in the first and Backstrom’s goal in the third, there was an ocean of suck on the part of the Caps. Over the intervening 39:06 the Caps outshot the Sabres 18-15 but were outscored 2-0 and managed only four shots in the second period while taking a pair of double minor penalties (Chimera for cross checking/unsportsmanlike conduct and Tomas Fleischmann for high-sticking).

-- Buffalo…seven power plays. Washington…one. If you’re counting, the Caps now have had two power play opportunities in the last 144:55 of play. It’s like the Ferrari that you’re keeping in the garage and never taking for a spin on the street.

-- The seven power plays allowed is the most for the Caps since allowing eight against Toronto last January 15th, a stretch of 52 games.

-- 17:38, one shot, no shot attempts in the third period or overtime, minus-1. Oh Captain! My Captain! Rise up and hear the bells. We can appreciate that Ovechkin is a big hitter, but when he has as many hits (five) as shot attempts (five), he’s doing the other team a favor. And if he scores on that breakaway in the first period, the rest of this post probably reads a whole lot different.

-- That’s two straight games of fewer than 18 minutes for Ovechkin. That’s the first time that has happened since January 15/17 (he was 2-5-7 in those games, wins over Toronto and Philadelphia).

-- Bruce Boudreau had more line combos tonight that McDonalds has in their drive thru. We could have sworn we saw Peter Bondra on one and Bobby Carpenter on another.

-- Carlson and Holtby were victimized by Vanek on the game-winner, but we’re not sure what Marcus Johansson was doing earlier in the play chasing Vanek like a driver trying to draft the car ahead of him at Daytona.

-- Got to give it to Holtby, he was not playing the cautious rookie on the last play by ducking into his own net as Vanek advanced. He took the gambler’s chance and just didn’t cash in.

-- Backstrom wins the ticket to the buffet. He sampled the whole score sheet tonight – one goal, plus-1, a double minor penalty, four shots, a shot blocked, two misses, a hit, a giveaway, a takeaway, a blocked shot, and he won 11 of 12 draws.

-- That’s right, Backstrom won 11 of 12 draws. He is now 15th in the league in faceoff winning percentage, higher than that of Sidney Crosby (we tireless await the praise from across the land to be heaped on Nicky for polishing yet another aspect of his game… yeah, right).

-- Alex Ovechkin has the reputation of being a big hitter among forwards, especially as a high end skill guy. But here is something… Ovechkin averages one hit per 6:15 of ice time. Matt Bradley averages one hit per 3:20 of ice time. He had three in fewer than nine minutes of ice time tonight. Every player needs to have something he is good at, and this is Bradley’s. Being abusive.

-- As Mike Vogel pointed out, Jeff Schultz should not have been recorded as on ice for the winning goal, that John Carlson and Karl Alzner were the defensemen. Here is the visual evidence (no, you haven’t been drinking too much…this screen capture is blurry)...

-- Tomas Fleischmann is going to want to get to Kettler early to keep the coaches from looking at the film of this one. One shot, a double minor, three giveaways, 11:36 in ice time (none in the last 4:36 of regulation and four minutes of overtime). He did win five of eight faceoffs, though. But the only thing keeping him from getting a seat in the press box might be Boyd Gordon being on the shelf with an injury. Your second line center can’t be 0-2-2 over his last five games and only once having a faceoff winning percentage over 50 percent.

In the end, it was a point the Caps probably did not deserve. They played a better first period than they have played lately, but had an atrocious second period and a not altogether together third period, too. That they gained a point was a product of skill (Backstrom) and solid play from someone who might not have been expected to provide it (Holtby). The other skill guys were dormant, and the secondary guys weren’t much in the game. This is the kind of game one might have expected tomorrow, which will be the Caps’ third in four days. It was not the sort of game one would have expected with a night off last night and against a team that was struggling on its own ice. When the Caps got the first goal, it could have been an opportunity to step on the throat of a fragile Sabres team, but the Caps wasted that chance with an effort in the second period that Bruce Boudreau said was “maybe our worst period of hockey since [he has] been here.”

In a way, this game was a window into the Caps and a chance to see if they have really learned certain lessons. The fact is, they didn’t play well with a lead. They got a goal to get ahead, then coasted to let the opponent overtake them, causing them to have to scramble late. Sound familiar? Or has last spring become a faded memory? The Caps still seem to struggle with the idea of playing with a sense of urgency when ahead early, of standing on an opponent’s throat and not letting them up off the ice.

Now the Caps have to play that third game in four days and do it with a short turnaround (the game starting at 5:00). But good teams overcome those kinds of obstacles and avoid making one bad period into bad habits that linger.

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