The Washington Capitals made it eight wins in a row on Monday night in Buffalo as they defeated the Sabres, 2-0, behind a 31-save effort from goalie Braden Holtby.
A scoreless first period was remedied early in the second period on Alex Ovechkin’s 18th goal of the season at the 19 second mark. The Caps were enough of a nuisance in the Buffalo end to force Sam Reinhart into a weak clearing attempt up the right wing wall that did not reach the blue line. T.J. Oshie batted the puck back down the wall into the corner where Nicklas Backstrom fished it out. Backstrom centered the puck for Ovechkin all alone in the low slot, and Ovechkin snapped it past goalie Linus Ullmark to give the Caps the lead.
The goal held up for 12 minutes when the Caps doubled their advantage. It was another case of the Sabres’ inability to get the puck clear of their own end. Tyler Ennis’ cross ice pass found no teammate and bounced off the far wall, where Tom Wilson collected the puck and fired it at the Sabres’ net. The shot went wide and bounced hard off the end wall, the puck landing on Jay Beagle’s stick at the top of the crease. Beagle wasted no time in swatting the puck past Ullmark to make it 2-0 with 12:55 gone in the period.
That left things up to Holtby, who preserved his shutout with a spectacular save on Evander Kane in the last minute of regulation. It was Buffalo’s last gasp, the Caps skating off with the 2-0 win.
-- The eight-game winning streak is the Caps’ longest since they put together an eight-game streak in the 2012-2013 season (Games 36-43, April 2-16).
-- This was the ninth game in which Braden Holtby faced more than 30 shots this season (31). In those contests he is 8-0-1, 1.43, .959.
-- Tom Wilson’s assist on Jay Beagle’s goal gives him four points in his last four games. He took a minor penalty, which gives him four minor penalties in his last four games.
-- The Caps allowed 31 shots on goal, the fourth straight game in which they allowed opponents 30 or more shots on goal. That ties a season high for consecutive games allowing 30 or more shots on goal.
-- Not an excuse for the shots (or the shot attempts, which favored Buffalo, 56-50), but a credible reason. The Caps were missing their top defensive pair. Brooks Orpik missed his 21st straight game on Monday night. His partner, John Carlson, was a game-time scratch with a lower-body injury, ending his consecutive games played streak at 412. It is the second longest consecutive games streak in franchise history, ten short of Bob Carpenter’s record of 422.
-- Carlson’s absence meant that Connor Carrick got a sweater for the first time this season and the first time for the Caps since April 13, 2014. He did well, given his sheltered minutes (a total of 9:19 for the game). He was plus-1 and recorded two shot attempts (one on goal).
-- Carlson’s absence, along with Orpik’s, had further ripples through the lineup. Matt Niskanen logged 27:25 of ice time, a season high for a game settled in regulation time (he skated 27:38 in an overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets on December 5th). Karl Alzner skated a total of 26:23, exceeding his season high in ice time by more than two minutes (24:05 on December 12th against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
-- Jay Beagle scored a goal. He has done so 27 times in his career. The Caps’ record in those games is 22-0-5.
-- T.J. Oshie got back on the score sheet with an assist after consecutive games in which he was shut out. He is 5-4-9 over his last seven games.
-- If folks are concerned about Alex Ovechkin’s goal scoring, don’t be. His 18th goal of the season lifted him into a tied for fifth place in the league, and he has played in fewer games (34) than any of the four players ahead of him. Last season, when he finished with 53 goals, he had only 16 goals in his first 34 games played.
In the end…
Some games you just have to grind out. This was one of them. Call it a “system” win if you want, or all of the players “pulling on the rope,” or “no passengers,” or whatever cliché you wish to use. The team stepped up as a group to fill in the holes left with the top defensive pair out, they got timely goals from an expected source and a good luck charm of sorts, and their insanely hot goalie took care of the rest. You don’t want to do it like that all the time, but it is the sort of learning experience in toughing out games that can pay dividends down the road when results are harder to come by.