The Washington Capitals went into last night’s game against the Buffalo Sabres with a chip the size of the second period on their shoulder. For the last few contests, the Caps have suffered a relapse of play midway through their games and some media has taken the team to task for it. After all, their second period stutters have allowed their opponents to come back into the game.
History almost repeated itself last night.
The Caps had a great first period, cruising to a 2-0 lead with goals by Nicklas Backstrom and Matt Bradley. And the second period started out well, with David Steckel snapping a wrister behind Sabres goalie Ryan Miller to put the game all but out of reach. But then, it nearly happened again.
At the 12 minute mark, the Sabres scored two quick goals; the first a power play snap shot by Derek Roy while Mike Green sat in the box for holding, and then less than a minute later, Jordan Leopold wristed a wide-open rebound in front of Michal Neuvirth. Suddenly, it seemed like the Caps were right back where they started in prior games against the Sabres and Atlanta.
This time, however, the mental lapses only lasted a few minutes, rather than an entire period. “With the exception of the two minutes in the second, we played really well,” said Steckel. “We talked about it before the game and we came out and executed it. We need to build off it. One game like that does not a season make.”
Indeed. The Caps needed to play a basic, simple game against Buffalo, who has been struggling all season. Though stretches of the game last night were unexciting-the crowd at the sold-out Verizon Center was pretty tame in the first period-the Caps came in and executed a simple game with some new line changes. “When we try to be fancy and do things we shouldn’t, that’s when we get in trouble,” said winger Matt Bradley. “We’re just playing a simple game. That’s what we did tonight.”
The best line combination of the evening was the second line of Jason Chimera, Steckel, and Bradley. They worked well up and down the ice all evening and the line garnered a total of 5 points on the night. “They were really good I thought tonight,” said coach Bruce Boudreau. “We are doing a little bit of experimenting. Eventually we get to be pretty confident with what we have and go with that.” And even though captain Alexander Ovechkin didn’t generate any points for the evening, his presence was felt by the Sabres, especially during the later minutes of the second period as he threw himself into a crushing check on Sabres winger Michael Grier.
Neuvirth was in good form last night as he earned his league-leading 12th victory. He finished with 31 saves, including five great stops in the third period during a frenetic Buffalo power play. The blue line stood tall during the final stretch, allowing only five shots at even strength during the third period; three of those came in the last minute of play with Sabres goalie Ryan Miller at the bench.
A recent feature in The Hockey News was critical of the Caps’ offensive capabilities, questioning whether the team is seasoned enough to vary their attack and style. The last two games have been a very promising answer to the team’s critics; the blue line has shown that they’re capable of quick offensive strikes when needed while still playing effective defense, and Ovechkin’s supporting cast is capable of generating offense. Don’t think that the team’s high-powered players had an off night, however. Alexander Semin extended his point streak to nine games with an empty netter and an assist, while Backstrom netted the opening goal.
The Caps have now won eight of their last nine and are 10-1 at home this season. Next game is Friday in Atlanta against the faltering Thrashers.
Miss the game? Check out some photos from last night’s victory.