Among the most notable indicators of the Caps' struggles over the past couple of months is the fact that the team has won back-to-back games just three times since their season-opening seven-game win streak, with just one of those coming in the past month and nary a single three-game win streak among the trio of consecutive victories. Seven of the Caps' last nine wins has been followed up with a loss - for every Toronto, a Philly; for every Nashville, a Jersey; for every Ottawa, a Florida. And so on.
On Wednesday night, the Caps had one of their better wins of the campaign over the then-East-leading Rangers, giving them yet another opportunity to build on a strong effort, against a team that had already beaten up on them twice this season, no less, in the Sabres on Friday night.
The Caps came out strong, got big goals and saves when they needed 'em, and skated away with a 3-1 win against a team with whom they're jockeying for position in the standings; it's hard to ask for much more than that.
Ten more notes on the game:
- The Caps grabbed a 1-0 lead when Alex Ovechkin blew past one Buffalo blueliner (pictured) then got a lucky bounce off the stick of another on an early power play. Of note, it was Ovechkin's first home power-play goal since March 9 and just his second since March 28... 2010. Of further note, Tomas Vokoun picked up an assist on the play, meaning he'll end the 2011 portion of the 2011-12 season with more power-play assists than Mike Green. Sad.
- Backing up a few moments, the Caps were on that power-play courtesy of a Mike Weber boarding minor, as the Sabres rearguard sent the Caps' leading goal-scorer face-first into the glass. Later in the period, Chimera would drop the mittens with Weber (and remind Ryan Miller how many days are left in the year), which is admirable, given what preceded it, and strategically smart as well - any time one of this team's North American forwards wants to take an opposing defenseman off the ice for five minutes, it's a good trade. Four minutes later, Troy Brouwer made a similarly beneficial exchange, taking Buffalo's top defenseman, Christian Ehrhoff, off. (Ehrhoff, incidentally, would not return to the game.)
- Less than four minutes into the second period, the Caps pushed their lead to 2-0 on a beautiful tic-tic-tac-toe passing play that Nicklas Backstrom tapped in past Ryan Miller who sold out on the assumption that Alexander Semin would shoot. And no, that wasn't a typo, tic-tic-tac-toe - Ovechkin deserves a tertiary assist on it, especially since he distracted 60% or more of the Sabre skaters. (It was Backstrom's 100th NHL tally, by the way, so congrats to Nick on his first hundo.)
- Half a period later, the Sabres got on the board when their top line cashed in on what had been several minutes of seemingly increasing territorial domination. Most disappointing? The Caps had the right guys on the ice, defensively - the Brooks Laich line and the Karl Alzner-John Carlson pair on the back-end. Unfortunately, Tomas Vanek is really, really good at hockey.
- The second period ended 2-1 after those top lines traded goals, but the momentum had certainly shifted, from a first stanza in which the Caps out-shot their guests 11-2 to a second twenty that went 15-6 the other way. The Caps would be out-shot 9-4 in the third, meaning they had more shots in the first twenty minutes than in the last forty, and were out-shot 24-10 after the first period. The scoreboard, of course, is all that matters on any given nights, but the shot (and scoring chance) trends there are at very least mildly upsetting.
- With less than six minutes left in the third, Ovechkin stemmed the blue tide by ripping a one-timer past Miller for his first two-goal game since October (and 65th all-time). The goal moved him into the team lead in goals for the first time this season and inspired the first "O-vi, O-vi" chant from the Verizon Center faithful in quite some time.
- Vokoun had another strong game in net, his third-consecutive quality appearance. Over those three games, Vokes is now 2-0-0/1.08/.959. Just what the doctor ordered.
- Contrary to Wednesday night's performance, a line of Marcus Johansson, Jeff Halpern and Troy Brouwer isn't going to produce much offense. At all. Against the Sabres, they did next to nothing (Johansson's best scoring chance probably came against his own goalie)... which is probably closer to what should be realistically expected of the trio than its two-goal outburst against the Rangers.
- The Caps blocked 23 Sabres shots on the night, with Alzner's four leading the way. They also took just one minor penalty and killed it off. The shot-blocking and discipline are two points that might get lost in this win, but deserve recognition.
- Back to Ovechkin, he now has back-to-back multi-point games for just the second time this season, first since October (he also led the game with four hits). Throw in a pair of points for each of Backstrom and Semin and for a second-consecutive game, the Caps got what they've been waiting for - their best players have been their best players.
The Caps will head to Columbus to close out 2011 tomorrow night against a Jackets team that won't simply roll over for them, no matter what one might infer from the standings. But if The Captain continues to play like he has been lately, and the team follows his lead, there's a good chance they'll be ringing in the New Year with smiles on their faces.