Coach Bruce Boudreau warned of a team's tendency to dangerously ease into the first game of a homestand after a long road trip. But these Capitals came out as if they had every intention to earn a few days off and time with the family before a Christmas feast. Although the team sporting the angry cashew on its jersey crest pushed back hard in the second, the Caps bent, but did not break. The Sabres are still "for real," but when the Caps' offensive juggernaut awakens, as it did immediately, not even a Vezina candidate in Ryan Miller can withstand the attack.
Ten more notes on the game:
- The Caps led in scoring chances eight to one after one, stunning a pretty sound defensive Buffalo squad. The SOB line simply overwhelmed both the third-best team in GA/G and the league's SV% leader between the pipes. Of course, that scoring chance ledger evened out a bit to 12-7 for Washington after two.
- Speaking of Miller, you had to think that all of this talk about his "ridiculous" stats would call for a correction. Right? A mere 33 for 38 (.868) for the Buffalo 'tender tonight. From Nicklas Backstrom's top shelf slapper to a Derek Roy-deflected Mike Green blast to a Brendan Morrison trick shot last utilized way back in the B.C. juniors, Miller was simply overmatched.
- Second correction of the night, deserving of its own "note": B-Mo back on the scoresheet for the first time in ten games. In mesmerizing, end-of-practice-dangling, shinny-style. He's been frustrated and centering multiple pairs of wingers of late (Brooks Laich and Mike Knuble, Laich and Alex Semin, and now Tomas Fleischmann and Knuble), but hopefully tonight's deft move in the crease gets him back on track.
- What else is back on track? The power play (perhaps). Finally the home team got an opportunity in the third tonight. And then another right after that. Capitalizing on both with a mere two shots. Flash drew both of those dreaded HHT penalties from Craig Rivet and Paul Gaustad, by chugging along and with a nice inside-out move at the blue line. He's now drawn three and committed two on the season. B-Mo and Semin did, however, give two PP opportunities with offensive zone infractions. It was Semin's third penalty in his last 13 games.
- What's gotten into Nicky? Two wicked wristers at sharp, goal-line angles, from each side of the cage, in consective games, along with a slot-area slapshot to the roof to open the scoring tonight.
- Was Coach on to something when he referenced the competition on the blue line, now with nine D in the fold following Karl Alzner's recall? The six assembled for tonight alone blocked 17 shots, two more than the Sabres, a team known for its shot blocking.
- They protected Michal Neuvirth quite well in the first frame, mostly limiting the Sabres to an initial shot and then clearing or corraling the rebounds. Not so in the second: young Michal was tested with serious NHL-caliber traffic in the middle period, and 20 shots. Only two got by him, one a bit questionable through the five-hole. So I'd call it a great follow up to the effort on Saturday in the City of Champions.
- We should single out John Erskine here for a monster game. Seven hits to lead both teams, three blocks, over 20 minutes of ice, and 22 shifts, which led all Caps defenders.
- On the other side of the ice, Tyler Myers is quite a defender already as a teenager. A towering specimen with long reach, the Texan held his own against the Alexes.
- Want a nice game-within-the-game? David Steckel vs. Gaustad at the face-off dot: the third-best in the league in FO% vs. the best, respectively. The two jawed and shoved one another early in the contest, and ultimately dueled to a draw (each won 3 of 6 against each other). Overall, Stecks was 8-14 (57%). Backstrom was a typical 5-12 (42%).
Now, with all of the good vibes surrounding the team right now, there's a sobering reality that the Caps are just keeping pace with the league's elite. While besting another 22 win club tonight, the 26-wins-in-35-games (.743) New Jersey Devils are up next. And the Penguins blitzed Ottawa tonight 8-2, for their 26th win in 38 contests.
But as we like to say around here, the regular season means [Franceschetti], and the team is approaching the mid-point of the season in excellent form. So here's wishing the players a happy holiday with the fam, wherever they currently are calling home.