The Caps have, on occasion, had a tendency to take teams lightly who happen to reside below them in the standings. And with a 20-point lead over the Sabres, tonight's game was one that could have easily fallen into that category.
From the outset, however, that didn't seem to be the case as the Caps headed to Buffalo to face a Sabres team that has played better as of late. Instead, they put together a pretty decent road game from start to finish, putting plenty of pucks on Ryan Miller early and not letting a lack of offense frustrate them late. And while they fell in the shootout, they did pick up a point - and get a
Ten more notes on the game:
- The early storyline in this one was one with which the Caps are keenly familiar... but usually from the other side. Through the first ten minutes of the game the Caps outshot the Sabres 10-0, not ceding a shot on goal to Buffalo until the final five minutes of the opening frame. And while they did tilt the ice, they also did an excellent job of taking away shooting lanes, not allowing Buffalo to get any shots through to the net.
- It wasn't just the Caps outshooting the Sabres - even Alex Ovechkin was outpacing them for a significant chunk of the first half, leading them 6-2 through the first period and finally falling behind late in the second period. All told, Ovechkin finished the night with an amazing 12 shots on Ryan Miller, made even more amazing by the fact that he didn't score on a single one of them. Although considering that this was the 11th time in his career that Ovechkin has had at least 12 shots on goal in a game, and the fifth time in which he had zero goals... well, it makes the 401 he does have even more impressive, doesn't it?
- The fact that the Caps were held off the scoresheet for so long in this game, despite firing a whopping 50 shots on net, is solely on the shoulders of Ryan Miller - and they should be glad they nicked him at all, because only Toronto has been shut out by Miller more than the Caps in his career (with three coming into tonight, tied with Montreal).
- Of course, those shutouts become slightly easier to rack up when you see every shot, especially when you are a goaltender of elite status as Miller is. And while the Caps spent most of the game putting up an obscene shot total, the majority of them were taken with no traffic in front, particularly early on. Even the mediocre goalies are going to stop most of the shots they see, and Miller is far from mediocre - but he can only do so much with bodies in front of him, and until the
- Miller's numbers against the Caps can make a single goal seem like an impossible deficit to overcome, and that was the obstacle facing the Caps when Drew Stafford scored late in the second to put the Sabres up by one. Awful defensive coverage by John Erskine , who gets caught watching the puck and lets Stafford set up behind him for the deflection past Philipp Grubauer. Way too easy for Stafford to get positioning, way too easy for him to get a stick on it, and both of those rest squarely on big #4.
- That goal aside, another pretty convincing game for Grubauer, who managed to stop just about everything that came his way despite the sleepy first and relatively low-action night for him all around. The flurries the Sabres did put together were met with some very strong saves, and in the shootout he was only beaten by... okay, well, no one's perfect.
- Not every game is going to have the heat of a storied division rivalry, and this was one that could have easily been pretty lacking in the vitriol department. But the physicality in this one started early with Steve Ott getting in John Carlson's face, and kept going straight through to the end (some of it more legal than others). Tom Wilson's freight train of a hit on Ville Leino, which for some reason required him to drop the gloves, Tyler Ennis's flying hit on Dmitry Orlov (which probably should have required him to drop the gloves), John Scott flattening Mike Green... plenty of bodies hitting the ice in this one.
- One of the more noticeable players tonight - in a good way - was also one of the guys who is most familiar with the Sabres, and that was Mikhail Grabovski. Good night all around for the second line, but none better that Grabovski, who was a menace in the offensive zone all night and finished with four shots and a pretty nice assist to his credit. Entertaining, if ultimately fruitless, spin-o-rama try in the shootout, as well.
- Not surprising that the lone offense tonight came by way of Grabovski and his linemates. Good work by Eric Fehr to tie up his man along the boards, allowing Grabovski to pounce on the loose puck and do what he does best - set up someone for goals. Quite a rocket by Troy Brouwer to tie up the game, too, as he continues to play well of late. Amazing what being on a well-constructed line will do, eh, Troy?
- And then it was off to the shootout, where all bets were off - the League's best shootout team against one of the top goalies. Had you told me that the only goal would be scored by Steve Ott, I might have been mildly surprised... but only mildly, because let's face it, the Steve Otts of the world are generally going to score in the shootout. Because logic has no place in hockey.
So the Caps let a point slip through their fingers against the 30th-place team in the NHL - and yet they didn't do so quietly, or for lack of trying, and they certainly didn't lower their performance to the level of a 30th-place team. And while it's slightly understandable if all that rings slightly hollow because of the loss, remember that sometimes the 'how' really does matter more than the 'how many'. Tonight, the Caps did the 'how' right. On to Ottawa.