Sunday, January 24, 2021

A ONE-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 6: Sabres 4 - Capitals 3 (OT/Gimmick)

The Washington Capitals closed out their second two-game set against the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday afternoon, dropping a 4-3 Gimmick decision to the visitors.  Nevertheless, the Caps extended their season-opening streak of games with points to six.

First Period

The teams went back and forth in grinding fashion over the first third of the opening frame, and it was the Caps’ grinding effort that resulted in the game’s first goal.  Garnet Hathaway started the scoring play without touching the puck, flattening Taylor Hall in the corner to the left of goalie Linus Ullmark and forcing Hall to fire the puck around the end boards to the opposite point.  Justin Schultz settled the biscuit and fired a shot that seemed to clip Nic Dowd on the way through, sneaking through Ullmark’s pads to give the Caps a 1-0 lead 6:58 into the game, Schultz credited with his first goal as a Capital.

Connor McMichael had a chance to get his first NHL point late in the period, setting up at the top of the crease for a redirect attempt, but instead of converting that, he was whistled for his first NHL penalty moments later.  The Caps successfully killed off the ensuing power play, thanks largely to some fine netminding by Vitek Vanecek.

Neither team was able to mount much of a consistent threat over the last few minutes of the period, and the Caps took a 1-0 lead to the first intermission.

-- Buffalo double up on the Caps in shots on goal, 16-8, and they out-attempted Washington, 25-16.

-- Conversely, the Caps out-hit the Sabres, 10-3.  Garnet Hathaway led the team with four, and Richard Panik added three.

-- Nicklas Backstrom led the club in blocked shots in the period with three.

-- Connor McMichael’s first period in the NHL…one shot on goal, two shot attempts, a minor penalty in 4:56 of ice time.

Second Period

Washington enjoyed the rare Sabre penalty early in the period, Jake McCabe going off at 1:23 of the period on a tripping call.  The Caps managed four shots on goal on the power play, none of them eluding Ullmark.

The teams traded two-on-one breaks in the eighth minute of the period, but Vanecek foiled the Sabres’ chance, and Ullmark got enough of his glove on a Nic Dowd attempt to keep it a one-goal game.

Buffalo got their second power play of the contest when Zdeno Chara took a tripping call 8:20 into the period.  With Trevor van Riemsdyk losing his stick and using Lars Eller’s, Buffalo converted, Colin Miller firing a one-timer through a clot of players past Vanecek’s left arm to tie the game at 10:07 of the period.

The Caps got their second power play chance 10:45 into the period when Rasmus Ristolainen hauled down Nicklas Backstrom behind the Buffalo net.  Washington converted when Justin Schultz took a feed at the top of the offensive zone, stepped up and fired a shot that was deflected by T.J. Oshie past Ullmark to make it a 2-1 game, 11:51 into the period.

Washington went a man short shortly after the tie-breaking goal, Nic Dowd going off for tripping, the fourth tripping call of the contest (two apiece).  The Sabres converted, working the puck smartly down low, Victor Olafsson converting a pass from Sam Reinhart to tie the game at the 13:04 mark.

The Caps took their third tripping call of the period when Jonas Siegenthaler was sent off at the 15:46 mark.  The Sabres tried several attempts to set up Olafsson for one-timers, but to no avail.  The Caps killed the penalty.

The Caps had an excellent chance in the last minute with Lars Eller leading a two-on-one entry into the offensive zone.  He fed the puck across to Richard Panik for a one-timer, but Ullmark smothered the attempt.  The teams left the ice tied, 2-2, after 40 minutes.

- The Caps were out-shot, 19-9, in the period and out-attempted, 29-13.

- Eleven of the Sabres’ 19 shots were on power plays.

- Nicklas Backstrom led the team in shots on goal through two periods (three) and was tied in blocked shots (three) with Justin Schultz.

- Through two periods, the Caps were not credited with a takeaway, and Buffalo was not charged with a giveaway.

Third Period

Less than two minutes into the period, Schultz had an excellent chance from between the circles, but the shot was smothered in front as Ullmark was sliding across his crease.

Washington took the period’s first penalty when Nic Dowd was called for cross-checking 6:03 into the period, his second minor penalty of the game.  Eric Staal made the Caps pay, firing a one-timer from the right wing circle over Vanecek’s left shoulder on the short side to make it 3-2, Sabres, at the 7:24 mark.

The Caps went on their own power play less than a minute later, Brandon Montour going off for interference.  Nicklas Backstrom converted when he pulled a loose puck away from Ullmark at the goal line and snapped a shot from below the line off Ullmark’s pad, off the far post and in to tie the game, 3-3, 9:28 into the period.

Just past the half-way mark of the period, Taylor Hall got behind the Caps’ defense and drew a penalty shot when he was prevented from a scoring chance.  Hall’s attempt hit the post to Vanecek’s left and out – no goal.  Although Buffalo dominated territory over the last half of the period, the teams finished regulation tied, 3-3.


Jack Eichel was a one-man stickhandling show to start overtime, and he almost won it when he toe-dragged the puck through John Carlson and tried to feed the puck between Vanecek’s pads, but the goalie prevailed.

Eichel had another chance in the third minute, but his one-timer as the late arriving forward was gloved down by Vanecek.

Justin Schultz had his own chance to win it for the Caps, taking a feed as he was steaming down the middle, but his snap shot was gloved by Ullmark.  Backstrom had his chance on a first shot and rebound on a break, but he was stopped both times by Ullmark.  That would be the last, best chance as the teams went to…

The Gimmick

  • Carlson: save
  • Eichel: goal
  • Oshie: save
  • Mittlestadt: save
  • Backstrom: save

Sabres win, 4-3

Other stuff...

-- The Caps went to extra time for the fourth straight game, the first time they went four in a row since late in the 2010-2011 season, when they went 3-0-1 over a four-game extra time stretch, losing in a Gimmick against Carolina before taking three decisions over Columbus, Buffalo, and Toronto.

-- This was the third Gimmick for the Caps in six games.  Last season, the Caps played their third Gimmick in Game 20.

-- Only five rookie goalies in Caps history faced more shots in a game than the 48 Vitek Vanecek faced, and the last one to do it – Al Jensen – did it in February 1982, when he faced 56 shots in a 7-3 loss to the Minnesota North Stars.  Bernie Wolfe is the only Caps goalie to face more shots as a rookie on home ice, facing 54 shots against the Philadelphia Flyers in December 1975 in a 7-5 loss.

-- Buffalo out-shot the Caps, 48-31, and out-attempted them, 78-54.

-- Nicklas Backstrom led the Caps with six shots on goal; Justin Schultz led the club with nine shot attempts.

-- Trevor van Riemsdyk was the only Capital not recording a shot attempt.

-- The Caps allowed three power play goals, the first time they allowed that many in a game since they allowed Tampa Bay three power play goals in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Lightning on March 20, 2019.

-- Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and an assist for his 247th career multi-point game.

-- John Carlson logged 28:52 in ice time to lead the team, but it was Justin Schultz who led the team in even strength ice time (20:46).

-- Connor McMichael’s first game line… 9:54 ice time, 0-0-0, even, one minor penalty, one shot, two shot attempts, won only faceoff.

In the end…

Six games, six games with points.  Frankly, things could be much worse for this club, but they have shown a resiliency in grinding through difficult situations.  It gets harder from here with the New York Islanders coming to town, but even with today’s result, the Caps are finding a hard-edged character that might do them well, in a few months.


Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 2

Week 2 was a disappointment for the Washington Capitals on more than one level. They opened the week with consecutive extra time losses to their hate rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, before salvaging the week with a Gimmick win over the Buffalo Sabres to complete the week.  And, there was the matter of four players breaking COVID protocols, one of them contracting the virus and two others testing positive for COVID-antibodies, earning all four players a four-game absence for quarantining purposes.  Finally, there was Tom Wilson missing the last third of the week’s final game with a lower-body injury that might keep him out of the lineup for a time.  But the Caps did avoid suffering their first regulation loss for a second week, and in a short season banking those points is gold.

Record: 1-0-2

The Caps played three extra time games in Week 2, the first time they went to extra time in three straight contests since Games 12-14 last season when they lost to Edmonton in overtime before winning consecutive games against Vancouver (in a Gimmick) and Toronto (in overtime).  The two consecutive extra time losses to the Penguins to open the week snapped a two-game winning streak the Caps brought into the season against the Pens.

The extra time win over Buffalo to end the week was the Caps’ third win over the Sabres this season and extended their streak of games without a regulation loss to the Sabres to five games (4-0-1) dating back to last season.  The win in what was also the home opener for the Caps extended their fine record in home openers to 16-1-2 in their last 19 games to open the season in Washington.

Offense: 3.33/game (season: 3.60/7th)

Ten goals in three games, especially when recorded as consistent a fashion as the Caps did (twice with three goals, once with four) is a solid team performance, especially given that Alex Ovechkin had only one of those goals and missed the last game of the week for violating the league’s COVID protocols.

Seven Caps shared the ten goals for the week with Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson, and Nic Dowd each getting a pair.  Thirteen Caps recorded at least one point for the week, Wilson leading the team with four (2-2-4).  Three other Caps had three apiece – Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Jakub Vrana, all of them going 1-2-3.

Kuznetsov and Ovechkin led the team in shots on goal with eight apiece, while Conor Sheary was the only one among 21 skaters for the week not to record a shot on goal (in one game played).

The Caps did get points from three defensemen (John Carlson with two, Zdeno Chara, and Brenden Dillon), but all points came on assists, not goals.

Defense: 3.67/game (season: 3.20/T-20th)

In the early going of the Peter Laviolette era, the Caps are a team with defensive issues.  Be they “defense,” broadly construed, goaltending, the new aspects of systems, or a combination of the three, the fact is that the Caps have allowed three or more goals (not including Gimmicks) in four of their first five games, including all three in Week 2.  What it does not appear to be is a product of shots on goal allowed.  The Caps allowed 30 of fewer shots in all three games for the week (all of them settled in extra time), and in four straight after allowing 31 shots in the season opener.  They allowed more than ten shots on goal in three of nine full periods of hockey.

What appeared to be a problem for the Caps was yielding shot attempts in close game situations.  Overall, their shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 for the week was unimpressive (48.1), but it was worse in tied game situations (45.6).  The odd part of this statistical area was that the Caps did well in terms of shooting plus save percentage at fives (102.9).  Defense is, to date, very much an unsettled matter for the club.

Goaltending: 3.45 / .869 (season: 3.09 / .887)

While the defense seems to have issues through which it needs to work, goaltending for the Capitals has to be better.  Five games in, and four instances of a goaltender finishing his work with a save percentage under .900.  Vitek Vanacek was the exception, posting a .968 save percentage in his NHL debut in Week 1.  In Week 2, Ilya Samsonov stopped 24 of 27 shots (.889) in his only appearance, a 4-3 Gimmick loss to Pittsburgh to open the week. That would be his work for the week, he being one of the COVID Four to be suspended from play for four games for violating protocols. 

Vanecek finished the week stopping 49 of 57 shots over two games (.860) in posting a 1-0-1 record.  Even though it was a two-game week for Vanecek, he had his ups and downs.  Although his save percentage in each game was under .900, how he got there took two different paths.  He had a very good even strength save percentage against Pittsburgh (.923), but allowing two power play goals on three shots did him in.  He was not so fortunate at evens against Buffalo to end the week, posting a .864 save percentage, the same as that posted by Samsonov against Pittsburgh to start the week.

Power Play: 1-for-7 / 14.3 percent (season: 22.2 percent/16th)

Well, at least they got more opportunities in Week 2 than in Week 1, so that is progress.  On the other hand, the Caps managed a 4-on-3 power play goal last Sunday against the Penguins, but were otherwise blanked with the man advantage.  This despite recording a respectable ten power play shots in 10:56 of total ice time.  More disappointing, the Caps failed to convert a 54 second 5-on-3 opportunity against Pittsburgh in the middle game of the week, and then failed to convert the rest of the 5-on-4 in what would end as a 5-4 overtime win for the Pens.  Despite dressing for only two games in Week 2, Alex Ovechkin led the team with three power play shots on goal.  Nicklas Backstrom had the lone goal on two shots, and Justin Schultz added a pair of power play shots.

If there was an odd result for the Caps this week, it was in power play ice time.  Fourteen different skaters logged time on the man advantage.  While some of that is transition at the end of a man advantage (Zdeno Chara had nine seconds), ten skaters logged more than two full minutes for the week, three of them defensemen (John Carlson – 6:57; Justin Schultz – 4:58; and Dmitry Orlov – 2:23).  Nicklas Backstrom was the ice time leader with 7:50 in power play time.

But what was the low point of the week for the Caps came on its 5-on-3 power play in Tuesday’s game in Pittsburgh.  Holding a 4-2 lead and 54 seconds of a 5-on-3 advantage, with the chance to put the game away late in the second period, they allowed a Teddy Blueger breakaway 3-on-5 shothanded goal that started the Pens on a three-goal run, the last in overtime, to steal a 5-4 win and an extra standings point that the Caps left on the table.

Penalty Killing: 8-for-10 / 80.0 percent (season: 83.3 percent/T-11th)

It was an “Oreo” penalty killing week for the Caps – two perfect penalty killing efforts sandwiching a gooey mess in the middle.  The opened the week killing all five shorthanded situations they faced against Pittsburgh and holding the Penguins to only four shots on goal in eight minutes of power play time.  The Caps ended the week blanking the Buffalo Sabres on both of their power play chances and allowing four shots on goal in four minutes of Sabres power play time.

The middle game of the week did not go so well. There was that 3-on-5 shorthanded goal that the Pens scored to start their late game run, but in the midst of that the Caps allowed the Pens a pair of power play goals on three chances.  It is worth noting here that the Pens’ last four goals of that game were scored: power play, shorthanded, power play, 3-on-3 (overtime).  Not good game management, and the penalty kill was right in the middle of it.  The Pens had only three shots on goal in 3:15 of power play time, but that was enough to do damage to the Caps’ chances.

Faceoffs: 77-for-186 / 41.4 percent (season: 44.2 percent/28th)

Faceoffs continue to be a blemish on the Caps’ weekly performances.  Only Carolina had a worse winning percentage in Week 2 (33.3), and they played only one game.  The 41.1 percent winning percentage even looks better than it was, the Caps finishing an abysmal 36.4 percent in the offensive zone and 41.1 percent in the defensive end.  The neutral zone wins (46.9 percent) did little to lift the overall result.

Nicklas Backstrom had a particularly frustrating week in the circle, managing a 29.8 percent win mark overall (31.6 in the offensive end, 25.0 percent in the defensive end).  None of the five Capitals taking ten draws or more overall managed a winning percentage in the offensive end.

Goals by Period:

Overall, the week might be described as being what the Caps earned in the first period, they gave away in the second.  A 6-3 edge in first period goals gave way to a 4-7 deficit in second periods overall (only Vancouver allowed more second period goals (11) for the week).  What made it an odd result is that neither the Caps nor their opponents scored any third period goals for the week.  The Caps were the only club to go the entire week without a third period goal scored or allowed.


What one might notice first about the year-over-year numbers in Week 2 is the almost docile approach to shooting so far.  The Caps are down 24 shots, year-over-year (almost five shots per game), and they are down 33 shot attempts at five-on-five (almost seven per game). The drop in shot attempts has been matched by a substantial increase in shot attempts allowed, leaving the Caps a net minus-51 in differential, year-over-year.

There is also the matter of power plays – opportunities to be specific.  The Caps to date have fewer than half the opportunities (nine) than they had through five games last season (20). A better conversion rate (22.2 percent versus 20.0 percent) makes no difference if the opportunities dry up.

In the end…

Only points count in the standings, and the Caps have points in all five games they have played to date.  Banking points is important, especially in a short season, but perhaps just as important when the underlying numbers just do not look very good.  Perhaps the rough edges are to be expected, what with the absence of preseason games and a new coaching staff.  But this is a veteran team, too, one with a considerable amount of talent.  They have a difficult stretch to come, with four players still on the shelf for disciplinary reasons and another key piece who might miss some time to injury.  Week 2 was an example of a team grinding through adversity to earn success in spite of it.  But these are issues the Caps will have to work through quickly if this season is to be successful.

Three Stars:

  • First Star: Tom Wilson (2-2-4, plus-1, seven shots on goal, 18 credited hits, only forward to average more than 1:00 per game on both power play and penalty kill)
  • Second Star: Jakub Vrana (1-2-3, plus-3, six shots on goal)
  • Third Star: Nic Dowd (2-0-2, plus-2, tied for team lead for week in goals, 11 credited hits, no giveaways)