Monday, March 16, 2015

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 71: Capitals 4 - Sabres 3 (OT/Gimmick)

The Washington Capitals opened their three-game road trip with a visit to Buffalo on Monday night to face the Sabres.  It was the Caps coming out on top in a surprisingly difficult contest, 4-3, that was settled in a trick shot competition,

The teams split four goals over the first two periods.  Buffalo opened the scoring on a power play early in the first period.  With Alex Ovechkin serving a double minor for roughing (Buffalo’s Mike Weber got two minutes for roughing), Tyler Ennis and Rasmus Ristolainen worked a fine give-and-go in the middle of the ice, Ennis finishing the play for his 18th goal of the season at 5:02.

The Caps evened things up on a power play of their own just over four minutes later.  A drive by Matt Niskanen was redirected by Joel Ward in the high slot, handcuffing Sabres’ goalie Anders Lindback.  Unable to control the loose puck, Lindback could not prevent Curtis Glencross from poking it over his left pad and in to make it 1-1 at the 9:23 mark.

It took Buffalo just 45 seconds to break the tie.  Cody Hodgson recorded his fifth goal of the season when his backhand shot was fought off by Braden Holtby, but the puck popped straight up.  When it came back down it hit Holtby in the back and tumbled across the goal line to make it 2-1 at 10:08.

That was all the scoring in the first period.  In the second, Mike Green tied the game for the Caps six minutes into the period when he jumped up on a loose puck deep in the right wing circle and pounded it over a fallen Lindback in the Sabres crease.

Evgeny Kuznetsov gave the Caps their first lead on a power play 5:55 into the third period.  He cut to the middle of the ice, trailing Curtis Glencross, then dialed up the snap shot he has used to great effect in the Gimmick.  He fired it low over Lindback’s right pad before the goalie could flinch, and it was 3-2.  He would return to a similar shot later, in the freestyle competition.

The Caps could not extend the lead, and it cost them late in the third period.  Johan Larsson beat Caps defenseman Nate Schmidt across the slot and had a free chance to redirect a Chad Ruhwedel drive out of mid-air down and past Holtby’s left pad to make it 3-3 at the 13:50 mark.

That would do it for the scoring in the hockey portion of the contest.  Evgeny Kuznetsov opened the trick shot competition with an almost hypnotic stroll into the zone before snapping the puck like a cobra strike past Kindback’s blocker, similar to his goal-scoring effort in the hockey portion of the evening.  That was enough.  Holtby stopped all three Sabre freestyle attempts, and the Caps escaped with a 4-3 win.

Other stuff…

-- Mike Green’s goal broke a 20-game goalless drought dating back to January 28th when he had a goal and an assist in a 4-0 win over Pittsburgh.

-- Curtis Glencross’ goal was his fourth in six games (4-2-6).  And it was his driving the middle that opened a shooting lane for Kuznetsov’s power play goal early in the third period.

-- With three goals scored against the Caps in regulation and overtime, the Sabres have scored more goals against the Caps this season (6) in three games than Boston and Pittsburgh have scored in six games against the Caps, combined (5).

-- Alex Ovechkin finished the game with 22 shot attempts – nine shots on goal, 10 shots blocked, and three misses.  There are 59 skaters having dressed this season who do not have a total of 22 shot attempts

-- With his goal in the hockey portion of the contest, Evgeny Kuznetsov is 2-2-4 in his last four games.  He is now tied for second in the league in trick shot goals (6).

-- Are the Caps hot on the power play, or what?  Going 2-for-2 makes them 3-for-3 in their last two games and 9-for-17 in March (52.9 percent).

-- The Caps had 38 shots on goal, their lowest total against Buffalo this season.  They finished the season series having strafed Buffalo goalies for 127 shots in three games.  The Caps out-attempted the Sabres by a 238-144 margin (plus-94 differential) over the three games.

-- With two assists, Matt Niskanen recorded his fifth multi-point game of the season and his first since January 27th in a 4-3 loss at Columbus.

-- Kuznetsov was the only Capital to win more than 50 percent of his draws (8-for-15).

-- You could say with some conviction that the only difference between last night and tonight for Braden Holtby was a measure of luck.  One goal off a pop-up that hits him in the back on the way down, another off a give-and-go that was a product of his defense allowing too much time and space for the Sabres to set up, and a third goal on a redirect out of mid-air.  It was not as if he allowed any softies.

In the end…

The Caps played at 33-1/3 while the Sabres played at 78 (it’s a vinyl thing, kids).  If the Sabres had more talent, this would have been a blow out, but good on them for their effort for 60 minutes.  The Caps?  Well, they didn’t have the same focus they had against the Bruins.  That it did not cost them an extra point can be called a good thing, we suppose.  Good teams have to fight through those kinds of games.  But we recall what Braden Holtby said after the 2-0 win over Boston, that his father told him it is okay to have a bad game, just don’t have two in a row.  That will be the object when the Caps head to Minnesota on Thursday.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 71: Capitals at Sabres, March 15th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals take to the road on Monday following their 2-0 win over the Boston Bruins at Verizon Center on Sunday evening.  The three-game road trip starts in Buffalo, where the Caps will face the Sabres at First Niagara Center.  So let's go to our abbreviated prognosto...

This, the third meeting of the seasons between the clubs, will be the last until next season. The Caps and Sabres split their first two games of the season series, the Sabres taking a 2-1 decision on November 22nd, the Caps winning the second meeting by a 6-1 score nine days ago.  Not much has changed since the last time these two teams met, so check our prognosto and game summary (at Japers’ Rink) from the March 7th game for some particulars.

Since then, here are some random facts to ponder…

-- The Caps are 1-2-0 since beating the Sabres and have scored just five goals in those three games.  It is the second time in a space of ten games that the Caps have been held to five goals over a three-game span.  They scored five in three consecutive losses, February 22-27: to Philadelphia (3-2), to Pittsburgh (4-3, and to Carolina (3-0).

-- Buffalo has lost both games played since losing to the Caps nine days ago, to Toronto (4-3 in a Gimmick) and to the New York Rangers (2-0).  The Sabres have lost six in a row coming into this game (0-5-1).

-- Buffalo has not scored a power play goal on home ice in a month.  Their last power play goal at First Niagara Center was scored by Nikita Zadorov in a 2-1 loss to Philadelphia.  Since then, the Sabre’s power play is 0-for-10 on home ice, 1-for-23 overall (4.3 percent).

-- The Caps scored on their only power play against the Bruins on Sunday night, making it power play goals in six of their last seven games (7-for-15/46.7 percent).

-- Washingon’s penalty kill was perfect against the Bruins last night (4-for-4).  The Caps are 27-for-32 (84.4 percent) over their last nine games, three of the five goals coming in a disastrous penalty killing performance against the Dallas Stars last Friday.

-- Buffalo’s penalty kill might be characterized lately as “deuces are wild.”  The Sabres allowed two power play goals in three of their last six games and are 15-for-22 in that span (68.2 percent).

-- Buffalo is one of only four teams without a 20-goal scorer (Arizona, Carolina, and Edmonton are the others).

-- Washington has only one 20-goal scorer (Alex Ovechkin with 45), but they have five players with a chance to hit that mark: Nicklas Backstrom (18), Troy Brouwer (18), Eric Fehr (18), Marcus Johansson (17), and Joel Ward (16).

-- Washington ranks fifth in the league in scoring defense (2.40 goals per game).  Last season they ranked 21st (2.79 goals per game).  The Caps have not ranked this high in scoring defense since they finished the 2010-2011 season fourth in the league (2.33 goals per game).

-- Buffalo ranks 29th in scoring defense (3.32 goals per game).  The Sabres have not allowed fewer than 2.70 goals per game for a season since 2009-2010 (2.45 goals per game/4th in the league).

-- Buffalo is a bottom-third team when it comes to allowing goals in the first period (56/9th worst in the league), but it does not compare to the horror shot that is their second periods of games (81 goals/2nd worst in the league) and the third periods of games (87 goals/3rd worst).  No team other than the Sabres has allowed 80 or more goals in both the second and third periods of games played this season.

-- Washington is tied for the sixth-fewest goals allowed in the first periods of games this season (47, with Montreal).  The Caps are one of six teams to have allowed 60 or fewer goals in each of the three periods of games this season (Los Angeles, Chicago, St. Louis, Montreal, and the New York Rangers are the other five).

-- Tyler Ennis leads the Sabres with 17 goals this season.

-- Alex Ovechkin scored his 17th goal in Game 36 this season, a 4-3 overtime loss to the New York Islanders on December 29th.

In the end…

You are tempted to write a “W” in ink next to this game, but the Caps have had their moments against inferior opponents this season, including a 2-1 loss to this very Sabres team on Verizon Center ice back in November.  Upstate New York has not been hospitable to the Caps in recent years, either.  They do not have a win in regulation in Buffalo since February 20, 2011, a 2-1 victory.  Since then the Caps are 2-2-1 in Buffalo, but both wins have come in extra time.  This might not be as easy as the respective records of these clubs might suggest.

Capitals 4 – Sabres 2