Special Delivery – Poor special teams play combined with a lack of discipline made life difficult for the Washington Capitals in the first four games of the 2012-13 season. The Caps gave up more power play goals than they scored in each of their first four contests, and they had a 0-3-1 record to show for it.
On Sunday afternoon at Verizon Center, the Caps rewrote the script to good effect, and it led to a 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres.
The victory is the first in the NHL head-coaching career of Caps bench boss Adam Oates.
There were stars and heroes a-plenty for the Capitals as they entered the win column for the first time this season.
“Today I thought we played a pretty complete game,” says Caps left wing Jason Chimera, who chipped in with a pair of assists. “Neuvy [goaltender Michal Neuvirth] played really well for us; he made some big saves for us. The power play got us one, which is huge; Ovi [Alex Ovechkin] got one, which is huge for us.”
Although Washington surrendered the game’s first goal for the fourth time in as many games, the Caps got it back in short order. They trailed for only 6:28 before Joel Ward’s third goal of the season sent them into the first intermission even at 1-1.
John Erskine’s second-period goal put the Caps in front, and Ovechkin’s power-play strike in the third proved to be the game-winner. Neuvirth was brilliant in goal for a second straight game, and Oates’ second-period line tweaks worked to good effect.
But the biggest backslap of the afternoon is reserved for the Caps’ discipline and special teams. Washington took just two minor penalties on the afternoon, and both were borderline calls at best. With the Caps playing their third game in four days and fourth in six, the much-maligned penalty-killing outfit had a perfect day, successfully snuffing out both penalties.
Washington’s power-play unit clicked in the third, when Ovechkin’s first goal of the season provided the Caps with some much-needed breathing room. Buffalo scored midway through the third, making Ovechkin’s tally stand up as the game-winner.
“Finally we got the win, and that is all that matters,” says Neuvirth. “We are extremely happy, but tomorrow is another day [we have] and another game on Tuesday and we’ve got to be ready.”
Number Nine, Number Nine – Erskine’s goal was his first since April 5, 2011 when he scored against the Maple Leafs in Toronto in a 3-2 Washington shootout victory. Today’s goal was the 12th of Erskine’s 426-game NHL career, and it was the ninth he has scored while wearing a Capitals’ sweater.
Washington has never lost a regular-season game in which Erskine has scored a goal; it is now 9-0 in those contests.
Not only did Erskine supply a big goal, he logged 20:56 on the backline. That marks the most ice time Erskine has logged in a non-overtime regular season game since he skated 21:46 in a Feb. 6, 2008 game against Philadelphia.
Leading Men – For the first time in five games this season, Washington took a lead to the room at intermission. The Caps and Sabres were tied 1-1 after the first period of today’s game, but Washington took a 2-1 lead on Erskine’s goal and maintained it into the second intermission.
The Caps never relinquished that lead. Prior to Sunday’s game, the Capitals had led for a grand total of 2:32 of the 244:39 of hockey they had played.
Ovechkin’s goal gave Washington its first two-goal lead of the season, a luxurious cushion that lasted all of 5:02 until Marcus Foligno bagged a rebound to pull the Sabres within one at 3-2.
Washington showed poise in playing with that one-goal lead late, allowing the Sabres just five shots on goal in the final 10 minutes and routinely making Buffalo come the full 200 feet of the sheet.
First in Second – Erskine’s goal was the Capitals’ first in the second period of a game since opening night against the Lightning in Tampa Bay. Between Wojtek Wolski’s goal late in the second frame of that contest and Erskine’s goal today, Washington was outscored 8-0 in the middle period of its last three games.
Circle School – The Caps schooled the Sabres in the face-off circle on the afternoon, winning 33 of 52 draws (62). Buffalo came in with the league’s lowest face-off win pct. at 40.3%; that figure will drop a bit after Sunday’s numbers are factored in.
Jay Beagle led the way for Washington, winning 12 of 15 face-offs (80%) on the afternoon.
No Vanek – Buffalo played without its top line left wing, Thomas Vanek. Vanek has recorded a point in all four Sabres games in which he has played this season, and he has nine points (three goals, six assists) on the season. Heading into Sunday’s slate of NHL action, Vanek was tied for third in the league’s scoring race.
In 27 career games against the Capitals, Vanek has 10 goals and 20 points.
By The Numbers – Ward notched his second multi-point game of the season after having one such game in 2011-12 … Mike Green led the Caps with 27:58 in ice time, doing so for the fifth time in as many games this season … Ovechkin paced Washington with five shots on goal … Erskine, Ward and Jeff Schultz led the way for the Caps with three blocked shots each … Foligno led the Sabres with six hits.