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After taking on - and losing to - one of the East’s top teams yesterday, it was time for the Caps to return home and face a team not quite in that upper echelon, as they hosted a Buffalo team sitting just one point ahead of them in the standings. It would essentially be a battle for 13th place; perhaps not the clash of titans some would prefer (and certainly not what NBCSN execs wanted to see when they made the schedule a few months ago) but an important game for both teams nonetheless.
Considering the two teams involved, it should come to the surprise of no one that this was perhaps not the most stunning display of skill and talent. But the Caps did what they needed to do, starting the scoring off early and making sure to finish with more goals at the end of the night. At this point, that’s really all we can ask for.
Ten more notes on the game:
- If you believe in omens, the fact that the Caps opened the scoring just 19 seconds in was perhaps a good one. Even better that it came off the stick of Alex Ovechkin, off an excellent faceoff win by Nicklas Backstrom - and nothing against Mike Ribeiro, but it’s amazing how having a center who can win a lot of faceoffs helps.
- Also amazing? That was Ovechkin’s first opening frame goal of the season (and also the fastest the Caps had opened the scoring all year). It was the start of a really solid all-around game for the captain, as he led everybody with five shots on goal and another eleven missed or blocked, including at least one goalpost, and definitely had his legs under him all night.
- Early on the Caps did a great job of completely shutting down the center of the ice, not allowing Buffalo to do a lot of breakout passes up the middle which they seem to enjoy (although that didn’t stop them from trying). As was expected, however, the Sabres began to push back a bit by the end of the first period, keeping the Caps from registering a shot for the final 11 minutes of the opening frame, although they did have a few go wide or off the post.
- Just to show that they could, the Sabres struck back in the second period and bested the Caps’ early strike by seven seconds, netting one twelve seconds into the middle frame to tie things up. That'll teach people to get stuck in lines at intermission.
- Mike Ribeiro is a man with many talents, but there's almost nothing prettier than watching him unleash them on the power play. He adds movement and vision to an already potent five-man unit, and showcased both with a seeing-eye pass through traffic - while skating backwards - to Troy Brouwer, who made no mistake about it and put the shot past Ryan Miller.
- Three cheers, a couple of handfuls of weagle-shaped confetti and a huge sigh of relief for Jason Chimera's first goal of the season. For all that we've been focusing on it, there's no question that it's been weighing on him tenfold - nice to see that monkey flung from his back, and he seemed to have a little extra jump in his game the rest of the night.
- That goal gave the Caps a two-goal cushion; it became three just forty-three seconds later as Marcus Johansson escaped all of the Buffalo defense to knock another one past Miller. And considering the way his defense just stood around and stared on the play, Miller must have thought he was at an art exhibition.
- As Miller struggled with his teammates, Braden Holtby seemed to be struggling all on his own at the other end of the rink. He was fighting the puck all night, seemingly never comfortable and really not very good on any of the goals (although they weren't all his fault). Case in point: his rebound control on the Sabres’ power play that allowed Cody Hodgson to have a wide-open net with no one in sight. That's a rebound he can't give up, and he's lucky that his team's offense showed up tonight to bail him out.
- There may not be a better (and by better we mean worse) pest in the NHL than Steve Ott - he's other things, too, but this is a family-friendly blog so we'll go with pest. Nice of the big, tough man to go after noted enforcers like Backstrom (which resulted in coincidental minors for him and Ovechkin, a trade the Sabres will taken any day) and then Marcus Johansson later in the game. And when Steven Oleksy, i.e. a guy who could actually challenge him, dropped the gloves, Ott tucked tail and ran. Sure, it gave his team a power play, but let's not give him too much credit - his antics cost his team more than they helped them. Towards the end of the game the officials finally sent him packing, having seen enough to issue a ten-minute misconduct... at least twenty minutes too late.
- Better late-game moment: Mathieu Perreault giving the team back the two-goal lead to essentially ice the game, or Ovechkin knocking down Holtby's empty-net attempt at center ice? They were both great, don't make me choose.
So the Caps take another one from Buffalo and move back into 13th place - another step on a long uphill climb, one that perhaps keeps the hope alive a little bit longer, and good confidence-builder as they head back on the road. Next up? Pittsburgh, never an easy game as it is but potentially harder if Tom Poti, out after the second with an upper-body injury (hey, thanks Ott), can't make the trip.
But if they're going to find some momentum, might as well start in the Steel City - and gee, wouldn't it be nice to put an end to Pittsburgh's little winning streak? Dare to dream, kids... dare to dream.