It was not the prettiest of wins, but two points is two points, and the win propelled the Caps back into the top spot in the Metropolitan Division over the idle Pittsburgh Penguins.
A scoreless first period gave way to a Capitals goal early in the second period, courtesy of the captain. The Caps worked the puck around the perimeter, T.J. Oshie sliding puck up the right wing wall to John Carlson at the right point. Carlson sent the puck across to Christian Djoos at the left point, and Djoos flicked a shot at the net. Alex Ovechkin, cutting across the slot from right to left, angled his stick for a deflection down and to the right of goalie Chad Johnson, finding the back of the net 78 seconds into the period.
John Carlson gave the Caps a 2-0 lead in the 14th minute of the period when, off an Evgeny Kuznetsov long range shot that caromed hard off the end wall, Carlson looped around the Sabres’ net and slid the puck between Johnson and the near post. The puck trickled over the goal line just before Kyle Okposo could sweep it away, and the Caps had a two-goal lead at 13:33.
That would be how the teams went to the second intermission, and the third period went 12 minutes without incident for either side. In the 13th minute, though, Buffalo halved the deficit when a Scott Wilson drive hit Okposo in the low slot and eluded goalie Philipp Grubauer at the 12:42 mark.
Buffalo got no closer, and Evgeny Kuznetsov hounded defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen into a turnover that Kuznetsov converted into an empty net goal with 25.9 seconds left to make it a 3-1 game. Evander Kane added a window dressing goal with 3.3 seconds left, but it was too little, too late as the Caps skated off with the 3-2 win.
-- Alex Ovechkin’s goal continued the alternating games with goals, on and off. He has three goals in his last five games.
-- John Carlson’s 11th goal of the season tied him for the sixth highest goal total by a Capitals defenseman since the 2004-2005 lockout. Dennis Wideman had 11 goals from the blueline in 20111-2012. His next goal will tie a career high and put him in a tie for fourth most goals by a defenseman in a single season since the 2004-2005 lockout.
-- Carlson added an assist, making him the seventh defenseman in the league this season to reach double digit games with two or more points. He is tied with Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman with 10.
-- T.J. Oshie finished a plus-3, his bet plus-minus for a game this season. Evgeny Kuznetsov did the same, his fourth plus-3 of the season.
-- The Caps suffered a lack of shooting effort against Chicago on Saturday. That was less the case in this game. Jay Beagle was the only one of 18 skaters without a shot attempt, and he and Tom Wilson were the only Caps without a shot on goal.
-- Jakub Vrana had an assist, his first point on the road since he had a helper in a 4-3 win in Carolina against the Hurricanes on January 12th.
-- Christian Djoos had an assist, breaking a five-game streak without a point.
-- Dmitry Orlov was the only Capital to get more than 20 minutes of even strength ice time (22:13).
-- The Caps are in the midst of a short, but odd pattern. Buffalo had 34 shots on goal, meaning that over the last four games the Caps have alternated allowing 44 shots and 34 shots on goal.
-- Philipp Grubauer has been unlucky with high shot volumes this season, but he handled 34 shots on goal with only two goals allowed. He is now 4-4-2, 2.78, .922, with one shutout when facing 30 or more shots.
In the end…
A 2-1-1 road trip is not a bad result, but one would be hard pressed to think the Caps looked good in doing it. In this game, the Caps played just well enough to win and played just poorly enough to let the Sabres stay in it until the last minute. The win did enable the Caps to reclaim the top spot in the Metropolitan Division, and it sets them up to add to their lead when they face the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night. But the Lightning are now, themselves, in a fight for a division lead with the Boston Bruins closing to within a point in the Atlantic Division standings. It will be a challenge as the Caps head home.