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Capitals vs. Sabres Recap: Ryan Miller Outduels Philipp Grubauer for Shootout Win

Washington drops a low-scoring matinee

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

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Having just snapped a four-game losing skid Thursday night in Tampa, the Washington Capitals entered the weekend with the opportunity to build some momentum as they were set to host arguably the League's two worst teams in Toronto and Buffalo. The Caps pocketed two points on Friday night (in a game that was very much in doubt for longer than anyone rocking the red would have liked), and had a chance to complete the weekend sweep on Sunday afternoon.

Like Friday night, the Caps played to the level of their ostensibly inferior opponent. Unlike Friday night, the Caps were unable to pull out a victory in this one, losing 2-1 in a shootout.

Some more notes on the game:

  • The Caps opened the scoring just past the midpoint of the first when Marcus Johansson drove hard to the net and Jason Chimera was able to get a pass through - but not all the way through - to him. The puck deflected off Sabre center Brian Flynn's stick and past his netminder as he was trying to defend Johansson. The goal was Chimera's, but it was Johansson's net drive (something we've noted a bunch recently) that really made it happen. (Connor Carrick also picked up his first NHL assist on the score.)
  • Buffalo answered late in the period with the Caps down a man as Tom Wilson was serving a charging minor and New York's second-best Tyler Ennis was able to bang home a rebound in front of Philipp Grubauer (with Joel Ward unable to get back in the play after colliding with Ennis at the other end of the ice). For Wilson, the penalty dropped him into a tie with Aaron Volpatti for last among Caps forwards in penalty plus-minus. The two have now combined for three goals and a minus-14 in terms of penalties drawn and taken... and for a team that's struggled to kill off penalties of late, that's not so good.
  • The first period ended tied at one apiece, with the Caps outshot 11-10. Given that the Sabres came into the game dead last in the League in first-period goals-scored and ninth from the bottom in first-period goals-against, that's not a great opening stanza for the host Caps.
  • Have you noticed Nicklas Backstrom shooting the puck more lately? With two shots on net Sunday, Backstrom has multiple SOGs in 16-straight games, the longest such streak of his career. Whether he's skating with Alex Ovechkin or not, it's good - and important - to see Backstrom's willingness to shoot more (and there was certainly an opportunity to do so in the third that he passed up).
  • If a second period is played and nothing of significance happens in it, does it make a sound? If it wasn't for Troy Brouwer taking two bad penalties in the frame, I wouldn't have anything to write here. So thanks, Troy.
  • Not to beat a dead horse, but the third defensive pairing remains a huge problem. Through two periods, the Caps were badly out-shot when the duo of John Erskine and Carrick was on the ice at five-on-five (15-3 in shot attempts, 7-1 in shots on goal). On the flip side of the coin, Mike Green and Dmitry Orlov were up well over 60% in both metrics, and the top pair of Karl Alzner and John Carlson was also on the right side of 50%. That third pair is dragging the Caps down in a big way.
  • Ryan Miller's save on Mikhail Grabovski in the third. Goodness. Two weeks ago, Miller stopped 49 of 50 Caps shots in a shootout win. On Sunday, Miller wasn't tested nearly as often (owing in large part to the Caps' difficulties in the neutral zone), but was nearly as good, stopping 28 of 29 Caps shots, including that unreal desperation stop on Grabo. And Grubauer, for his part, stopped 16 of 17 Sabre shots in that first match-up and 30 of 31 on Sunday.
  • In the final minute, with the score still tied at one, the Caps appeared for a moment to have scored the go-ahead goal. But Backstrom had tripped a Sabre prior to Alzner's shot and so it went from 2-1 Caps to 1-1 with Washington shorthanded. Not good times.
  • The Caps got the game to overtime, killed the remainder of the penalty, and the game went to a shootout, where Cody Hodgson scored the only goal. Game over.

With the two weekend "should-wins" now in the rearview, the Caps get set to host San Jose and then travel to Pittsburgh midweek. Three points in four games against those two teams would be a good thing; against these past two teams, however... not so much. But it's better than nothing... or two points, one point or none... Ladies and gentlemen, your 2013-14 Washington Capitals.

Game highlights: