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The Caps have had to wait almost half a season to face off with rookie phenom Jack Eichel and the Sabres. That long wait ended tonight, as they kicked off a home-and-home series against Buffalo with a visit to First Niagara Center. The goal in this first game? Set the tone, play a solid road game and try to take a couple of points out of upstate New York.
Here's Monday night's Plus/Minus:
- Plus: Jay Beagle. He is one hot dog right now. ...sorry.
- Minus: Fighting. Reasonable minds can disagree over whether Nicolas Deslauriers needed to "answer" for his hit on Justin Williams in the second period, but can we all agree that losing Michael Latta to a fight-related injury kind of stinks?
And now, this...
This is not a goal. Goals have to go in the FRONT of the net.
Ten more notes on the game:
- For the first time since April 2010, the Caps had to play a game without the benefit of having John Carlson patrolling the blueline. That snaps a streak of 412 consecutive games, longest on the team and an impressive run for any player, let alone a defenseman. You knew it was going to end eventually...but man, did it feel weird not having him out there.
- Of course, the absence of Carlson had some important implications for a team already missing Brooks Orpik. For one thing, they needed to replace the body in the lineup; enter Connor Carrick, who made his 2015-16 season debut. Perhaps more importantly, though, they needed to replace the massive minutes eaten up by Carlson on a nightly basis. That task fell mainly to the de facto top pair of Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner, and each of them logged at least 25 minutes tonight (including close to half of the game's opening 40 minutes).
- The first period ended in a (somewhat sleepy) 0-0 draw, but the Caps came flying out of the gate to start the second period and it almost immediately paid off. The top line jumped out with some awesome forechecking, which was followed by that ridiculous sixth sense of Nicklas Backstrom's that allows him to find Alex Ovechkin in front of the net. And as Buffalo quickly learned, you never leave Alex Ovechkin alone in front of the net.
- Later in the period, Sabres forward Deslauriers laid a hit on Justin Williams along the boards, then hit Williams in the face with his stick. Again, whether or not it was a penalty is up for discussion - you need to have control of your stick at all times, but it certainly wasn't a high-sticking infraction and there's no such thing as "low-sticking", so... yeah.
- Clearly the Caps thought it was worthy of some sort of punishment, or at least Michael Latta did, as he stepped in to drop the gloves with Deslauriers. That turned out to be something of a poor decision, as Latta got the worst of it and would miss the rest of the game with the enigmatic "upper-body injury". Fighting is dumb... although after the way Deslauriers celebrated that fight, one could understand the urge to punch him in the face.
- Best way to get revenge? Score goals. About two minutes later, the Caps did just that, as Tom Wilson rifled a shot off of the end boards that then bounced out front to a waiting Jay Beagle and a wide-open net. Beagle's not going to get many easier than that, and he picked up his second goal and third point in his last three games
- Buffalo's power play is actually pretty good this season, as they're chipping in at just over 20% for the ninth-best extra-man group on the circuit. That power play was held off the board completely, and registered just two shots on their three man advantages - and both of those shots were on the third penalty.
- They didn't show up on the scoresheet, but nice night all around for a couple of guys who have struggled lately in Marcus Johansson and Andre Burakovsky. They combined for eight shot attempts, with Johansson in particular getting some good scoring chances (and three shots on net).
- Jack Eichel is good at hockey.
- Braden Holtby is better. He came up huge for the Caps again tonight, logging his second shutout of the season with a 31-save performance... including this ridiculousness on Evander Kane in the dying seconds:
Holtby makes an insane save on a Kane shot pic.twitter.com/wJ6eeZUN8m— CAPITALS HILL (@CapitalsHill) December 29, 2015
So the winning streak goes to eight games, and the points continue to accumulate. The Caps will get a chance to extend that streak against these Sabres in two days - get ready. You know they will be.