The Capitals faced off against the Sabres, now confirmed Deadline Sellers, with a chance to break away from the logjam of teams treading water at 31 points in the Eastern Conference (Washington, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, and Buffalo) through Friday's games. Before puck drop Sabres' General Manager Darcy Regier sent defenseman Jordan Leopold to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for two selections at this year's NHL Entry Draft (2nd, conditional 5th). Both Buffalo and Washington sitting at 31 points, the Sabres have made their intentions for the next six weeks clear.
Despite jumping out to an early lead, Buffalo was unable to hold off the Caps in regulation. And with Washington's come-from-behind win puts them ahead of the logjam with 33 points, just two away from the eighth seed, and a bit closer to (albeit still a fair distance from) closing the gap on Winnipeg (38 points) for the division lead. Tomorrow's game against the Flyers will further focus General Manager George McPhee's course of action heading into the April 3rd Trade Deadline next week. But tonight, we enjoy this one.
Ten more notes on the game:
- The Sabres’ defense corps couldn't be happy with their team's new direction, having shipped off one of their own earlier in the day, but that didn't stop defenseman Christian Ehrhoff from putting the home team up one before the contest was four minutes old, his snap shot from below the right circle beating Braden Holtby to the far glove side.
- Ville Leino started the second period with his first of the season, then added his second less than ten minutes later on the power play by tapping home defenseman Tyler Myers’ point shot. The puck had stopped short of the goal line, and while Washington was looking for the puck, swift-skating Leino hopped into the crease for a tap in, the Sabres forward very noticeable in his seventeen minutes of work.
- Alex Ovechkin would pull the Capitals back within one in the second period with his eleventh power play goal of the season, a wild wrist shot from the right circle that put Ehrhoff’s earlier shot to shame. All Jhonas Enroth could do was wave his glove at the passing puck helplessly as the captain gave his team a big bounce back goal relatively early in the second period. It was just one good play on a strong night for Ovechkin, who also had the game-winning shootout goal by firing a snap shot through Enroth's legs before the Swede could flinch.
- Ovechkin ended the night with ten shots on net, his running mates Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson combining for a single shot in a combined forty minutes of ice time. Would it be foolish to think that Ovechkin becomes more effective when defensive focus must be wary of a shot-first threat from either Swede?
- Brooks Laich collided with Tyler Myers on a failed hip check in neutral ice and Capitals fans collectively tensed watching the Washington winger slowly get to his skates. Only six games removed from a groin injury that sidelined Laich in November, seeing Brooks immediately return to kill a John Carlson Delay of Game put minds at ease.
- Enroth was great for the Sabres, the Capitals outshooting their opponents by fifteen (38-23), and was spectacular late in the one-goal game and overtime. His save on Troy Brouwer with two minutes to play in regulation looked like a back breaker for Washington, only a fortuitous bounce sending the game to overtime. Enroth’s diving glove save on Ribeiro in overtime brought Buffalo fans to their feet and left everyone speechless (even if the following shootout didn't reflect Enroth's play as a whole). If Ryan Miller opts to leave Buffalo after the 2014 season Sabres fans will likely be happy to anoint Enroth as their second Chosen One.
- Brouwer’s shorthanded third period goal was courtesy of goaltender Holtby, which might sound familiar if you tuned in earlier this season (February 9th against the Florida Panthers, to be exact). Brouwer made no mistake with his short-side shot, victimizing an otherwise excellent Enroth on the 2-on-1. The goal gave a quiet Capitals bench reason to simmer with over seventeen minutes to play in the final frame.
- The highlight of Holtby’s night was certainly his primary assist, the Capitals netminder posting a sub-.900 GAA on a light load of work (.870, 23 shots). Washington kept the Sabres under ten shots per period and they could’ve used an extra save from their Number One, although his performance in the shootout nullifies most criticism.
- Mike Green’s goal (with Holtby pulled) was certainly hockey karma. After hitting the left post behind Enroth earlier in the third period the Powers Above ricocheted Green’s second bounce off of the goaltender’s shoulder and into the net, tying the game with forty seconds to spare. Almost enough to make you forget the defensive blunder against the Islanders... almost.
- Jeff Schultz had a less-than-impressive return to the line-up, the seven-year Capitals veteran making his first appearance since March 19th in Pittsburgh. Wrong-siding Steven Oleksy (and putting his entire team offside) aside, his attempt to dance around Jason Pominville with seven minutes left in the game left yours truly aghast. While his attempt to create a higher percentage scoring chance can be understood, the chance to fire a puck on net from fifty feet when down by one can not. Head Coach Adam Oates used Schultz sparingly, affording him eleven minutes of ice (11:05) but none in overtime.
The Capitals' comeback against the Sabres took a full sixty minutes but their two points earned on Ovechkin's shootout tally made the thrill-ride worth it. The team clamped down and created offense around an otherwise excellent Enroth, forcing his hand on the tying goal by funneling rubber to the crease.
The Capitals travel to Philadelphia to face the Flyers at 6PM on Easter Sunday with a chance to pull within three points of an idle Winnipeg Jets team with a win.