One of the most impressive aspects of this still-young 2010-11 campaign for the Washington Capitals has been just how many different ways they seem to be able to win games. They've won with great goaltending, with dazzling highlight-reel skill exhibitions, and with grinders stepping up. They've won blowouts and close games, high-scoring affairs and goaltending battles, games they've dominated and games in which they've been outplayed.
Tonight, with the Buffalo Sabres in town, they showcased a lot of the above en route to a 4-2 victory which ran their home record to 10-1-0 and increased their cushion atop the League standings. The "how" most certainly matters, but that "how many" sure is attention-grabbing.
Ten more notes on the game:
- For a couple of minutes there in the middle of the second period, Michal Neuvirth seemed to have lost his concentration and/or confidence, and was beaten twice in a 48-second span as his 3-0 lead quickly became 3-2. But he didn't let a single puck past him over the final 27 minutes of the game, which included a few desperate goal-mouth scrambles as the final buzzer drew near, and he ended the night with his best game of the month, stopping 31 of 33 Sabres shots. Impressive mental fortitude, no doubt.
- The big story ahead of tonight's game was Bruce Boudreau's line tinkering, most notably breaking up Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, slotting the latter alongside Marcus Johansson. So how'd the kid do centering the captain? He won 10 of his 15 faceoffs, fired two shots on net and didn't have a single giveaway (he also didn't play in the game's final ten minutes or so). Individually, he certainly receives a passing grade for his effort...
- ... as a line, however, Ovechkin, Johansson and Mike Knuble struggled, posting by far the team's worst Corsi/Fenwick numbers as the never really established much possession and were caught defensively a few times. Had Johansson not had a career night in the dot, things could have been really ugly for this trio.
- And while the Ovechkin line (was it the top line?) had its issues, the night belonged to the third line of Jason Chimera, David Steckel and Matt Bradley, which combined for two goals and three assists and, really, was even better than those numbers might imply, given that both goals were scored thanks to hard forechecking and Chimera's soft hands (yep, you read that right). Steckel's goal, by the way, made him the tenth different Cap with a game-winner this year (as a point of reference, more than half the teams in the League don't even have ten wins yet).
- Speaking of Stecks, one of the game's less-publicized individual match-ups featured the League's top two faceoff men (heading into the game), Steckel and Paul Gaustad. Goose won this round, but that's no doubt cold comfort.
- Does anyone miss former Cap Shaone Morrisonn? Not after coughing up the puck to a hard-checking Bradley in the corner moments before the Steckel goal, I'd wager.
- If there was a turning point in the game, it was at 7:49 of the second period. With the Caps leading 3-0, Alexander Semin and Backstrom made brilliant passes in succession and the puck ended up on Brooks Laich's stick for what could have been a nail-in-the-coffin slam dunk. But Ryan Miller - who was on the ropes at that point - made a sparkling save and gave his team a chance to get back in the game. They did.
- With two more points (a gorgeous set-up to Backstrom on a 5-on-3 power play and an empty netter from somewhere in Anne Arundel County), Semin now has 25 for the season. In his 84-point 2009-10 season, he registered his 25th point on December 7.
- Did anyone miss Tomas Fleischmann tonight?
- The Caps will want to be a little more careful with the puck than they were tonight - total the Sabres takeaways and Caps giveaways and you get 22; total Buffalo giveaways and Washington takeaways and you get six.
And so it's off to Atlanta with a couple of good wins in a row and some folks wondering how they might win their next game.