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Last night the Caps flew out of the gate, taking it to the Bruins early and putting together a solid two-goal shutout win over their Wild Card rivals. So it stood to reason that they could bring the same energy and do even more damage against a team in full-on tank mode, right?
Okay, no, none of us thought that would happen.
Instead, the Caps looked sluggish from the beginning and sloppy throughout, a far cry from the well-oiled machine that earned two points just 24 hours earlier.
Check back for our full recap later, but first, here's Monday night's Plus/Minus:
- Plus: Evgeny Kuznetsov. It's been an up-and-down season for Kuznetsov as he continues to adjust to life in the NHL, but he was flying tonight - and really has been over the last handful of games - and picked up a goal that (briefly) was the go-ahead tally. Add in another five shots that all hit the target along with the one that found the back of the net, as well as his typical shootout tally, and it was a very good outing for the young Russian.
- Minus: Compete level. Okay, yes, it's one of those non-quantifiable buzzword things, but it applies here. Because the way the Caps played for long stretches of tonight's game smacked of a team looking past and underrating their opponent, and with the playoff race suddenly much tighter than it ever should have been, there's no wiggle room for any of that right now.
Ten more notes on the game:
- If the first period against the Bruins was one of the best the Caps have put together in recent memory, the first period tonight joins an increasingly lengthy list of the worst ones, with the Caps on their heels early and often. By the time the first 20 minutes had come to a close, the Caps had given up 15 shots to a team that averages roughly 23 in an entire game, and two goals to a team that averages 1.79 a game. So... that went well.
- Seeing Alex Ovechkin rush in to stick up for Nicklas Backstrom after the latter was knocked down behind the net was a heartwarming moment - always nice to see a bit of team toughness and all of that. That said, the Sabres will take an Ovechkin-for-Mike Weber tradeoff any day... actually, they'd probably take an Ovechkin-for-any player in a Sabres jersey tradeoff any day. They got that, plus a bit of bonus power-play time...
- ...which they put to good use, firing four shots on net before Tyler Ennis gave them a 1-0 lead off of a pretty passing play. For some perspective, on Sunday vs Boston the Caps were shorthanded four times and held the Bruins to just four shots total in eight minutes of power-play time.
- Of course, no one's going to show up the Caps when it comes to power-play strikes, and a little over four minutes later, there was Curtis Glencross tapping home a rebound. Since joining the Caps, Glencross has four goals - more than any other Cap since the March 2 trade deadline, edging out even Alex Ovechkin (who has three over that same span).
- Sometimes the bounces go your way, and sometimes they don't - for the Caps, tonight was filled with the latter, the "highlight" of which was the go-ahead goal less than a minute after Glencross picked up the equalizer. Cody Hodgson's shot on net took a weird bounce that turned into a pop fly, which Braden Holtby lost sight of... until after it had rolled down his back and into the net. It was just that kind of night.
- The Sabres held that 2-1 lead into the second period, but a strong effort by Marcus Johansson helped bring the Caps even once again. Excellent work by Johansson to first collect the puck from the faceoff and thread a nice pass out to Brooks Laich, who fired it on net; Johansson then gathered up the rebound, carried it around the net and - as he was falling - was able to get the puck over to a pinching Mike Green. With Anders Lindback pulled out of position, Green had a wide-open net, and with that patented shot of his (and a bit of patience), #52 had #6 on the season.
- How good was Evgeny Kuznetsov tonight? As mentioned above, he's been really solid over the last few games, and it's a trend that continued tonight, with Kuznetsov firing ten shots on or towards the net, scoring the Caps' third goal on a nifty wrist shot (and using Glencross as a screen in the process) and then picking up the eventual shootout-winner with his now-familiar slow approach. He now has points in four of his last six games, and goals in two of his last three.
- Kuznetsov was just one of two Russians firing on all cylinders tonight, even if he was the only one to pick up any points. His fellow countryman, Alex Ovechkin, established a new season high with a whopping 22 shot attempts - nine that hit the net, ten that were blocked and three that missed. And yet he was held off the scoresheet for the second-straight game (and has no goals in his last three)... somehow we think he'll be okay, though.
- Just when it looked like the Caps were going to hang on and escape Buffalo with a 3-2 victory... they didn't. This time it was a deflection that slipped through Holtby with just under six minutes to go, with Johan Larsson able to slip past Nate Schmidt and get a stick on a shot from the point, and it was all tied up once more.
- Naturally the overtime session accomplished nothing other than to add to Ovechkin's shot totals, so it was off to the shootout. And while we may have all aged five years waiting for Kuznetsov to take his shot, it was worth the wait - and then it was Holtby shutting the door the rest of the way.
And......... breathe. It was ugly, but it counts, and that's all that's left to say about this one. Pack up those two points and get the hell out of Buffalo.