Five Spot – Coming into Sunday’s game with the Buffalo Sabres, the Caps had a record of 11-2 in games in which they’ve scored three or more goals this season, and a 0-13-1 mark in games in which they’ve scored two or fewer. Unfortunately for the Caps, they had scored two or fewer in four of their previous five games, which is one of the main reasons they lost four of their previous five games.
Tonight, five different Caps tallied as the team ran that record to 12-2 when scoring three or more with a 5-3 victory over the visiting Sabres.
“I thought we had a letdown there in Boston,” says Caps right wing Joel Ward of the team’s 4-1 loss on Saturday. “The energy level wasn’t there. I thought today for a back-to-back game at home, we responded pretty well. It was good for guys to get some good chances and we worked hard and some some rewards from a few guys.”
Washington came out of the gates quickly, getting an Alex Ovechkin goal just 19 seconds after the opening puck drop. The Caps took that surge to a new level in the second, scoring three goals on four shots in a span of just 5:22 against Buffalo netminder Ryan Miller. This after the Sabres drew even at 1-1 with an early goal of their own in the second; Buffalo’s Cody Hodgson beat Caps goalie Braden Holtby just a dozen seconds into the middle period.
Buffalo made it 4-2 on a Brian Flynn goal just past the midpoint of the second, and the visitors pulled within a goal when Hodgson struck again on a rare Sabres power play marker at 5:30 of the third.
Sabres super pest Steve Ott drew a roughing call on rookie Caps defenseman Steve Oleksy to give Buffalo a shot at knotting the score at 12:48 of the third, but the Caps killed it off and got a big insurance marker from Mathieu Perreault seconds after getting back to even strength.
“It was huge because we were leaking a little oil,” says Caps coach Adam Oates of Perreault’s goal. “We were doing some good things, but you know they’re going to push and they had a little bit of momentum. It was a big goal for us.”
Holtby made 27 saves to earn his 10th win of the season.
Quick On The Draw – Buffalo iced the puck soon after the opening draw, giving Washington an offensive zone draw on the right dot just 17 seconds into the first. Two seconds later, the puck was behind Miller and the Caps had a 1-0 lead, their quickest of the season.
Caps center Nicklas Backstrom beat Hodgson on the draw, left wing Marcus Johansson nudged the puck to Ovechkin and the Caps’ captain rifled a wrist rocket past Miller to give the Caps a 1-0 lead.
“First of all, we have to win the face-off,” says Ovechkin. “Backy won the face-off and Jo-Jo made a nice move there.”
Buffalo is next-to-last in the league in face-offs this season at 45.9%, and it won just 23 of 64 draws (36%) in Sunday’s game.
“There’s a design for it and we just didn’t execute on the play,” laments Sabres coach Ron Rolston. “First of all, you can’t lose the draw that clean, and secondly, we just didn’t have the execution we needed to have in place on the play.”
For a team that had been down 2-0 in each of its last three games, having an early 1-0 lead was a welcome change.
“That was great,” says Johansson. “To get that lead right away and play with a lead is huge. It was a great face-off win by Nicky, and when Ovi gets to shoot from there it’s a good chance it’s going to be a goal. That was huge for us.”
Powering Up – Mike Ribeiro led the Dallas Stars with 15 power-play points (two goals, 13 assists) last season. His helper on Troy Brouwer’s power-play marker against the Sabres gives Ribeiro 16 power-play points (five goals, 11 assists) in juts 28 games with Washington this season.
Ribeiro is tied for the NHL lead in power-play scoring with Montreal defenseman Andrei Markov.
Brouwer’s power-play goal ties him with Ribeiro for second on the team, two behind Ovechkin. The trio of Ovechkin, Brouwer and Ribeiro has scored 17 of Washington’s 23 power-play goals (73.9%) this season.
Ovechkin’s seven power-play goals are tied for fifth in the NHL.
Monkey Available – Jason Chimera scored his first goal of the season in Washington’s 28th game of the 2012-13 campaign. A 20-goal scorer for the first time in his NHL career in 2011-12, Chimera’s goal was his first in a span of 30 regular season games, dating back to last April 2 against the Lightning in Tampa Bay.
Although Chimera hadn’t found the back of the net, Oates believed the left wing was playing good hockey.
“Good for him,” says Oates, “It’s been obviously a tough road for him but I really feel like the last five or 10 games he’s played much better hockey, and that’s why he’s getting those chances and finally it went in for him.”
Oates noted that Chimera was somehow involved in six of Washington’s 11 even-strength scoring chances in the team’s 4-1 loss to the Bruins on Saturday.
“I felt like I was playing really well,” says Chimera. “I had tons of chances and it felt like goalies made world-class saves against me. It’s a good feeling, but the win is more important for our team right now.”
Deuces Wild – Six different Caps collected a pair of points in Sunday’s game against Buffalo. Brouwer, Perreault and Johansson each had a goal and an assist while Backstrom, Ribeiro and Ward each contributed a pair of assists to the cause.
Man Down – Caps defenseman Tom Poti left Sunday’s game after absorbing a cross-check from Ott to the back. He is day-to-day with an upper body injury. This is the third time in its six games that Washington lost one of its defensemen to injury.
Triumphant Return – Perreault sat out the last two games and three of the last four as a healthy scratch. As he seemingly does so routinely, he made a splash in his return to the lineup.
“It’s the story of my career so far,” says Perreault. “This morning when I saw I was going to play with Wardo and Chimmer, I was pretty happy; two guys that I’ve been playing pretty good with in the past.”
In addition to his key insurance tally, Perreault had an assist, rang a shot off the iron and won eight of 11 face-offs (73%). All this in 11:59 of work.
"Every time you take Matty P. out of the lineup for a few games you know he's going to come in and be flying and I felt great tonight," notes Perreault.
Minutes Man – Playing just his third NHL game in the last 11 months and his second after two months on the shelf with an upper body injury, Caps defenseman jack Hillen logged 23:03 in ice time on Sunday, second most among all Washington skaters.
Hillen played 20:09 at even strength, 1:38 on the power play and 1:16 while Washington was shorthanded.
For Hillen, it was his biggest workload in nearly two years, since he skated 23:40 in a March 30, 2011 game for the New York Islanders against the Devils in Newark.
Hillen became the ninth defenseman to log 20 or more minutes in a game for the Capitals this season.
The Ladder – Washington needed a regulation win to hop over Buffalo in the Eastern Conference standings, and it got it. The Caps now head out on their longest road trip of the season, a four-game journey in which they’ll face Pittsburgh, Winnipeg (twice) and the New York Rangers in the next week.
The Caps will play seven of their next eight games on the road.
Washington is now tied for 12th in the Eastern Conference standings, six points behind eighth-place Carolina and seven points behind front-running Winnipeg for the Southeast Division lead. The Caps have a game in hand on the Jets, but the Hurricanes have a game in hand on the Capitals.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears finished off a successful weekend at Giant Center with a 5-2 triumph over the Adirondack Phantoms on Sunday. Jeff Taffe scored twice and Philipp Grubauer made 36 saves in the Hershey nets to key the victory.
Taffe added two assists for a four-point game. Peter LeBlanc, Ryan Potulny and Casey Wellman also scored for Hershey, which also got two-point efforts from Wellman, Jon DiSalvatore and Dmitry Orlov.
Hershey took a 1-0 overtime decision from Bridgeport on Saturday, getting 27 saves from Grubauer and the overtime game-winner from Garrett Mitchell.
The 30-24-3-5 Bears are tied with Connecticut for seventh place in the AHL’s Eastern Conference standings. A mere six points separates Hershey, Connecticut and the five teams immediately behind them in the standings.
A huge road weekend looms ahead for the Bears, who will play three games in as many nights in New England next weekend. Hershey visits Connecticut on Friday, Manchester on Saturday and Worcester on Sunday.
Down a level, the ECHL Reading Royals also swept their weekend games. The Royals blanked Elmira 2-0 on home ice on Friday night and edged Cincinnati at Sovereign Center on Saturday night.
With six games remaining in the regular season, the Royals now own a two-point lead over Cincinnati in the ECHL’s East Division. Reading has won four straight games and has already clinched a playoff berth.
By The Numbers – John Carlson led the Caps with 30:15 in ice time on Sunday … Ovechkin teed up 16 shots of the 60 the Capitals attempted on Sunday. Five of his shots got on net to lead the Caps, six were blocked and five missed the net … Ovechkin led the Caps with three hits … Hillen paced the Caps with four blocked shots … Ribeiro won 5 of 6 draws (83%) and Brouwer 10 of 12 (83%) … Drew Stafford had five shots to lead Buffalo … Ott and Mike Weber led the Sabres with four hits each … Jordan Leopold paced the Sabres with five blocked shots.