Pulling Points From The Fire – A rare three-day layoff didn’t seem to agree with the Washington Capitals on Saturday in Buffalo. The Caps started slowly, but finished furiously and got out of town with a 4-3 shootout win and a pair of desperately needed standings points.
Coming off a gut-wrenching 3-2 home ice loss to the New York Islanders on Tuesday, the Caps took Wednesday off and then practiced on Thursday and Friday before returning to action on Saturday against the Sabres.
Buffalo needed just 3:06 of the first period to draw first blood in Saturday’s contest, and the home team led by a goal after 20 minutes of play and by two goals after 40 minutes. The Caps played poorly in their own end in the first, but also had some strong scoring chances of their own.
“The stuff that we talk about every day that slows us down is our execution,” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “It’s one thing when you have guys bearing down on you and you can’t execute and there’s another time when you have time to make a play and we don’t. That’s what it was in the first period. It wasn’t so much Buffalo – yeah okay, they came and they played – but it was more us. We had opportunities to make good decisions and plays and we didn’t.”
Although Washington started to turn the tides of possession and territory in the second period, the Capitals also fell a goal deeper into the hole. Trailing 3-1 heading into the third, the Caps were in danger of coming away empty-handed. But Troy Brouwer netted a shorthanded goal early in the third to make it a 3-2 game, and Caps defenseman Mike Green – whose turnover late in the third period helped cost the Caps at least a point in Tuesday’s game against the Islanders – supplied the late heroics.
Green, who hit the left goalpost with a shot from center point on the power play earlier in the third period, teed one up from virtually the same spot and managed to get it behind Buffalo goaltender Jhonas Enroth, who played well in a losing effort.
“Almost exact same spot on the ice and shot,” says Green, comparing his third-period near miss with his game-tying tally. “The first one I saw the whole way and it hit the post and went out. I came back to the bench and said to myself, ‘I wish it would have hit [Enroth] in the back and went in.’ And the second one did, so somebody was listening to me.”
The Caps had several strong chances in overtime; Mike Ribeiro was robbed on a highlight reel stop from Enroth. But the Caps and goaltender Braden Holtby prevailed in the shootout to take two points and to take sole possession of 11th place in the Eastern Conference standings.
“We came out flat, really flat,” says Green. “We didn’t deserve to win early on in the game, but going back to the ‘character’ word, it’s exactly what we showed tonight. These are the type of games that we’re going to need to steal to make a playoff push and get the points that are needed to make the playoffs. It’s a big win for us.”
The Sabres edged Washington 17-15 in shot attempts in the first period, but the Caps tilted the ice thereafter. The Capitals held a decided 26-11 advantage in shot bids in the second period and a 25-13 margin in that department for the third period and overtime. For the evening, Washington fired 66 shots toward the Buffalo nets while the Sabres responded with just 41 shot tries of their own.
“Unfortunately we didn’t have a good start,” says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin. “But Adam told us we still had chances. I think I could have had two goals in the first. [The Sabres] just kind of used what [chances] they had. It’s a kind of situation where they had one shot on goal, and it goes in. They had two shots on goal, and they went in.
“It was good that we didn’t stop playing. We knew the third period was probably going to be the biggest period of the year and the guys handled it. We got a very big goal shorthanded by Browsy. After that we just kept pushing and we got rewarded for it.”
Helping Themselves – The out of town scoreboard was very kind to the Capitals on Saturday, delivering news of regulations losses to the Jets, Islanders and Rangers. Washington has had some previous good fortune in that regard this season, but it hasn’t always been able to help itself.
Erasing a two-goal deficit in the final 20 minutes to claim two points qualifies as helping yourself.
“I remember talking to [linemate Jason Chimera] and looking up at the board there late in the game and saw that the Rangers were losing,” says Caps right wing Joel Ward. “It was a big one for us. It was a little rally with some of the guys, ‘Let’s just dig deep here and stay with the program and play a little bit desperate and see what happens at the end.’”
Road Warriors – Saturday’s win was the fourth in a row on the road for the Capitals, their longest road winning streak since a six-game road spree from Feb. 26-March 22, 2011. Washington is now 8-9-1 on the road this season, with half of those road victories coming in the last 10 days.
With a win in Philly on Sunday, the Caps could pull even in both their 2012-13 road record and overall record, achieving that level for the first time in the season.
“I didn’t even know that,” says Ward. “But I think that’s huge for us. We’ve been playing pretty good hockey as of late. We had a little bit of a lapse against the Islanders; I think we were a little bit fatigued.
“We’ve got a good squad. We believe in ourselves. I think it’s coming together. We got [Brooks Laich] back in and it’s helping us. Greenie is in and we’re getting great goaltending. If we can just stick to our plan and limit chances, and stay out of the box, those are the key elements for us to win games.”
Still Streaking – Ovechkin scored his league-leading 11th power play goal in the second period, extending his points streak to seven straight games. He has scored goals in six of those seven contests and has
The streak is Ovechkin’s longest since he had a seven-game run from Dec. 20, 2011 to Jan. 3, 2012, totaling seven goals and 11 points.
The last Ovechkin scoring streak that stretched for more than seven games was an eight-game spree from Oct. 27-Nov. 11, 2010. He had five goals and 15 points during that eight-game stretch.
Short Stuff – Brouwer’s shorthanded goal on Saturday was his first shorthanded strike of the season and his first in a Capitals sweater. He now has three shorthanded goals for his NHL career.
Brouwer’s shorty against the Sabres was his first since Nov. 25, 2009 when he netted one with the Chicago Blackhawks in a 7-2 win over the Sharks in San Jose.
Marching On – Holtby is now 8-4 this month with two shutouts, a 2.06 GAA and a .932 save pct. During his three-season NHL career, Holtby is 16-5-1 in 22 March appearances (21 starts) with five shutouts, a 1.77 GAA and a .940 save pct.
Saturday Night Special – Holtby ran his career record on Saturday to 7-1-1. In nine career Saturday starts, Holtby has three shutouts, a 1.65 GAA and a .942 save pct.
Holtby’s Helping Hands – Holtby collected an assist on Brouwer’s shorthanded goal, the Caps’ goaltender’s second helper of the season and the third of his NHL career.
Both of Holtby’s helpers this season have come on Brouwer goals, and both have been special teams assists. Holtby has one power-play and one shorthanded assist this season.
Workhorse – Caps defenseman Jack Hillen logged 20 or more minutes for the third straight game, skating 25:19 in Saturday’s game. That’s the most ice Hillen has logged in an NHL contest in more than two years, since he skated 26:19 for the Islanders in a Dec. 8, 2010 game against the Avalanche in Denver.
The Ladder – Saturday’s win leaves Washington five points behind Winnipeg for the top spot in the Southeast Division. The Caps have two games in hand on the Jets, and they also have one game remaining with Winnipeg. So, in effect, Washington suddenly controls its own destiny in terms of taking the division title.
The Caps are in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, one point behind 10th place Carolina and two points behind the New York Rangers and the Islanders, which are tied for eighth.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears started their weekend with a 5-3 loss in Albany on Friday night. The Bears returned home on Saturday to host the top team in the AHL’s Eastern Conference, the Providence Bruins.
After spotting the visitors a 2-0 lead midway through the contest, the Bears rebounded to take a 3-2 decision from the Bruins.
Bears captain Boyd Kane scored a power play goal at 14:06 of the second to halve the Providence advantage. Nicolas Deschamps evened the contest at 2-2 at 8:35 of the third and Ryan Potulny scored what would prove to be the game-winner less than four minutes later.
Philipp Grubauer made 37 saves in the Hershey nets to push his record to 11-6-2-2 on the season.
The 32-26-3-6 Bears remain in eighth place in the AHL’s East Division, six points shy of fifth place and just five points ahead of 11th place. Hershey will be back in action next on Friday when it travels to Syracuse. The Bears have just nine games remaining this season, and seven of them will be played on the road.
Down a level, the ECHL Reading Royals dropped a 3-2 shootout decision to Elmira in Reading on Saturday night in their regular season finale. Reading finished up the campaign with a 46-19-3-4 mark, good for 99 points and the best record in the Eastern Conference.
Reading hosts Greenville on Friday at Sovereign Center in Game 1 of its opening round Kelly Cup playoff series.
By The Numbers – Green led the Caps with 27:16 in ice time … Ovechkin paced the Caps with 10 shots on goal, a single-game high this season. He had 17 shot attempts … Brouwer led the Caps with four hits … Tyler Myers led the Sabres with 28:13 in ice time … Steve Ott led the Sabres with six hits … After winning just seven of 18 draws in the first period, the Capitals claimed 25 of the 43 face-offs (58%) the rest of the way.