The Caps played about as fine a road game as one could ask for, even accounting for the fact that the Sabres are a team struggling in the standings, in subduing Buffalo, 4-1. They played things close to the vest in a scoreless first period, took advantage of the opportunities they were presented in the second, and shut the Sabres down effectively in the third. But the biggest thing coming out of this game was Nicklas Backstrom coming back to the game after sitting out much of the first period, and outcome for which Caps fans can give thanks.
Here's Friday night's Plus/Minus:
● Plus: Team Defense. The Caps held the Sabres to a total of 43 shot attempts, and that included having to defend five Sabre power plays
● Minus: Five Sabre power plays. That is entirely too many shorthanded situations to be faced, and it is a trend that needs to be done away with.
Ten more items:
- Only two weeks separated the first and last of three meetings between these teams. And with this game, the season series is over…well, unless they meet in the playoffs. Caps win the season series, 3-0.
- Holding their breath as the first period ended, Caps Nation wondered if Nicklas Backstrom would return for the second period. He skated only four shifts in the first period, and none after the 11:59 mark, ten seconds into his fourth shift. He did return.
- T.J. Oshie got the Caps on the board first with a nifty chip over goalie Robin Lehner’s left pad and under the crossbar. That sort of thing usually matters for the Caps, who came into the game tied for second in wins when scoring first (13, behind 15 for the Montreal Canadiens).
- Having a backup goalie like Philipp Grubauer is quite an asset. He was the picture of calm in goal, nary a ripple in the blue paint pond in front of him. It was the fifth time in six games this season he allowed two or fewer goals in a game.
- Alex Ovechkin didn’t have many marks on his line of the score sheet, but he seemed more active than he has been in recent games.
- Nifty stick work down low by Evgeny Kuznetsov resulted in a slick pass to Jakub Vrana, who redirected the puck past Lehner’s right pad for his first NHL goal. His relatively subdued celebration of his first career goal was the stuff of a player who has scored before and knows he will score again.
- Kuznetsov had a jump in his game that hasn’t been there often or in long stretches through the first 25 games. He made a fine power move early on to create a chance for himself, and his pass to Vrana for the goal was of the sort that came more often last season.
- Give credit to the Caps team defense. Through two periods, the Sabres had only 28 total shot attempts. Not that the Caps converted that into any overwhelming advantage; they had only 29 total shot attempts through 40 minutes, but they had two goals.
- O-Pair… Dmitry Orlov was the activator, and Brooks Orpik was the keep things in front of him partner. The blemish was the Sabres scoring a power play goal with Orpik in the penalty box with an iffy hooking call.
- Drought ended… John Carlson scored a goal. He did not have a goal in his first 25 games, but he had one to start his second 25. A beauty that rang off the crossbar and in from the top of the offensive zone on a power play.
It was a game of firsts for the Caps. First NHL goal for Jakub Vrana, first goal since coming back from an injury for T.J. Oshie, and first goal of the season for John Carlson. Not bad.
And now, this...