Whether a team beats the Boston Bruins or the Buffalo Sabres, the result is the same – two points. There are no style points added or extra points for quality of competition, neither are they taken away. In the NHL, you win, you get two points. And so, the Washington Capitals earned two points this evening for their 5-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres, lifting the Caps over the Sabres and into 13th place in the Eastern Conference standings.
The Caps got started early, just 19 seconds into the game, when Nicklas Backstrom won a faceoff cleanly from Cody Hodgson, Marcus Johansson slowed the puck's momentum as if to tee it up, and Alex Ovechkin ripped a laser through goalie Ryan Miller’s pads for the 1-0 lead.
It might have signaled a loud and shiny night with horns and goal lights, but that was how the first period ended. And, with the Caps getting only four shots on goal after the Ovechkin goal, it had the look of lost momentum. And so it was when Cody Hodgson knotted the game 12 seconds into the second period when he “Ovechkinzed” defenseman Steve Olesky by shooting the puck through the defenseman's legs and through goalie Braden Holtby’s five hole.
Any momentum Buffalo might have derived from the tying goal lasted but an instant. The Caps applied heavy and consistent pressure in the Buffalo end, topping it off when, on a power play, Mike Ribeiro moonwalked the puck backwards along the goal line toward the Buffalo net, then slid a pass out to Troy Brouwer in the high slot. Ryan Miller, no doubt mesmerized by Ribeiro’s dance moves, could only lunge across the crease to try and deflect Brouwer’s shot with his head. It did not work. Brouwer’s shot found the far top corner, and it was Caps 2 – Sabres 1.
The Caps seemed to put the game away in a 43-second span mid-way through the period. Brouwer did some fine work along the end wall behind the Sabres’ net, outworking defenseman Mike Weber for the puck, then backhanding it in front onto the stick of Jason Chimera. And then…
Yes, in his 28th game, on his 59th shot of the season, Jason Chimera scored his first goal of the season, a purely reactive, bang-bang slam dunk of a shot past Miller to give the Caps a 3-1 lead. Marcus Johansson took the Caps to 4-1 just 43 seconds later when Buffalo got caught with their collective pants down around their own net. Ryan Miller was down and out, and four defenders were within arm’s length of the net looking lost when the puck squirted out to Johansson at the side of the net. Johansson banked it off the skate of Christian Ehrhoff, and things looked well in hand for the Capitals.
These being the Caps, though, things would get interesting once more. Brian Flynn (who you would know if you read our prognosto) scored when he shouldered down a high puck, then in one motion swept it past Holtby. Then the near impossible happened…
Buffalo scored a power play goal.
Again, if you read our prognosto you would know this, but Buffalo was last in the NHL in power play efficiency. Worse, after they scored three power play goals in their season opener, they had only eight in their next 27 games. But there it was, Cody Hodgson putting back a rebound that Braden Holtby might have directed a bit better, and it was 4-3.
Mathieu Perreault put things in proper order, though, with just under five minutes left. Perreault started the play by skating the puck out of the Caps’ end with Brian Flynn hanging off him. He nudged the puck up to Joel Ward, who fed it back to Perreault at the Buffalo blue line. With Jason Chimera driving the middle lane to the net, Perreault crossed behind him, held the puck, and finally wristed it across his body and into the back of the net to close the scoring.
-- Too bad that Perreault goal closed the scoring, and not because we prognosticated a 5-4 Caps win. No, because the Sabres pulled goalie Ryan Miller 2:12 left in the game. With that much time left, it was entirely possible that Braden Holtby would get an opportunity to try and score an empty-net goal. He did, in fact, attempt a shot, but he did not get a clean swing at it and managed only to move the puck to the red line.
-- No, Ovechkin’s goal at 19 seconds was not the fastest goal to start a game in Caps’ history. Not close. The record is eight seconds, done twice – Gaetan Duchesne did it in a 3-3- tie at St. Louis on March 14, 1987; and Alexander Semin did it in a 5-4 Gimmick win over the New York Islanders on November 11, 2009.
-- John Carlson came up big in this game. With Tom Poti going down to injury early in the second period with an injury and coming back to skate only one more shift to end his day, the Caps skated largely with only five defensemen (a recurring theme lately). Carlson finished the game with 30:15 in ice time. It was not, however, a personal best for Carlson, not even a personal best this season. He skated 30:34 in a 3-2 loss to New Jersey on February 21st.
-- Five different Caps recorded the five goals, six players had multi-point games. And it was the latter that was surprising for who it included: Joel Ward (two assists), Mathieu Perreault (1-1-2), and Marcus Johansson (1-1-2).
-- The Caps were an amazing 15-for-22 on defensive zone draws, Troy Brouwer going a perfect 7-for-7. It was part of a 41-for-64 (64.1 percent) night in the circle for the Caps.
-- The Caps had a total of 60 shot attempts, 25 of them on goal. Alex Ovechkin had 16 of the 60 attempts, five of the 25 shots on goal. But what might have been his “captain” play was stepping in when Steve Ott decided he would try to mix it up with Nicklas Backstrom. What is it with Northeast Division teams jumping Caps who have no fighting history? Boston’s Brad Marchand jumps Mike Ribeiro (total NHL fights: zero), then Ott jumps Backstrom (total NHL fights: zero).
-- At some point, rookie play like rookies, even those with compelling stories. Steve Oleksy had his rookie moment when Steve Ott (yeah, he was all over the ice, like fish guts on a trawler) goaded him into taking a roughing penalty with more than seven minutes left and the Caps nursing a 4-3 lead. He will learn.
-- Back to Perreault. The 1-1-2 night was pleasant, but not entirely surprising. He is, after all, primarily an offensive player. But he was 8-for-11 on faceoffs tonight. And if you think that is a surprise, he is winning faceoffs at a rate of 55.2 percent. If he was eligible, he would rank 15th in the league. Now that is surprising. But it does represent progress, too. Over the last four seasons, Perreault’s faceoff winning percentage has increased from 45.2 percent to 45.6 to 50.8 to 55.2 this season.
-- And back to Johansson. Only Ovechkin had more shots on goal for the Caps (five) than did Johansson (four). Only once in his career had Johansson had more shots on goal in a game – seven in a 4-3 overtime win over the Chicago Blackhawks on March 13, 2011.
-- This win was the first for the Caps this season in regulation time when allowing a power play goal (2-13-1), their only other such win coming in a 4-3 overtime win over Boston.
-- This was not the best instance of “shot management” by Braden Holtby (both Hodgson goals being examples of ones he might have wanted to play differently), but his glove save of a Drew Stafford shot, even if the shot might have been going wide, was a momentum stopper.
In the end, the weekend probably ended up the way one might have thought – a loss in Boston, a win against Buffalo. It still leaves the Caps six points behind eighth-place Carolina, the Hurricanes holding a game in hand. And now, the Caps embark on a four-game road trip, the great circle route to Pittsburgh, then to Winnipeg for a back-to-back, ending next Sunday against the Rangers. If they can win three of four, they might yet have a puncher’s chance at sneaking into a playoff spot. Tonight was a good effort upon which they might build as they head off to the road.