The Buffalo Sabres, young and full of youth’s brash naiveté, came into Washington on Friday night with some talent, flash, and a lot of moxie.
Well, this is DC, kids. Take a number.
Did the Capitals have an answer for them? Let’s get into it!
Here’s Friday night’s Plus/Minus:
Plus: Tom Wilson now has 10 goals in 15 games. Yes, that Tom Wilson.
Minus: The Capitals’ power play remains as impotent as your uncle for the time being.
And now, this...
Ten more notes on the game:
1. After dropping the first game in their last half dozen contests to the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 2-1 loss on Wednesday night - a clash that truly lived up to its billing ‘round these parts as potentially the best rivalry in professional sports - could the Capitals get back on the winnin’ wagon quickly against the Buffalo Sabres on Friday?
2. If they would, it would be with a certain speedy Swedish heartthrob back in the lineup. Andre Burakovsky slotted back into the mix Friday night, as did fellow fleet-footed forward Chandler Stephenson. Dmitrij Jaskin and Travis Boyd took seats in the press box as a result. Would this shift towards speed (at the expense of scoring, in Boyd’s case) prove a meritorious match-up for a young Buffalo squad?
3. We didn’t have any scoring in the first frame by which to judge, but Capitals fans did see some promising glimpses of shored-up special teams. Both the aforementioned Stephenson and fourth-liner Nic Dowd got time (and presumably Todd Reirden’s eyeballs) on the penalty kill, and performed admirably. After twenty minutes, this one was still scoreless but boreless.
4. The second period began unassumingly similarly, with good hockey at both ends, but some missed finishes from Evgeny Kuznetsov and great saves by Braden Holtby and Carter Hutton proving to be the difference. Similarly, that is, until Jonas Siegenthaler took a tripping penalty, and the Capitals went on the penalty kill. Sometimes the best defense is a good offense, and that’s just what the Capitals figured, too. Instead of retreating, Nic Dowd lifted a gorgeous backhand chip pass across center ice to a streaky-dekey Chandler Stephenson, and Steph Flurry beat Hutton shorthanded to make it 1-0 Washington.
I asked both Stephenson and Dowd after the game what goes through their heads when they suddenly realize, “Oh, crap. We could score a shorty here.”
“Just trying to think of a move as quick as you can,” Stephenson told me. I told him I noticed he didn’t use his normal backhand-forehand-five hole breakaway move. “I think I’ve used that one a little too much. I just wanted to change it up,” he said with a smile.
For his part, Nic Dowd told me, “Me and Stevey [Stephenson] kind of made eye contact and I had a little bit of space in the middle, so i just kind of wedged it out to him and hoped it died in there, because I knew he was going to beat that guy up ice because he can really skate.”
5. Some other high-wire weirdness in the second period! With just under two and a half minutes remaining in the frame, a botched pass by the Capitals defense led to a jailbreak the other direction. Well, Braden Holtby figured, “Hey, I’ve got skates, I’ve got a stick, why don’t I chip in?” and came all the way out to the DANG BLUE LINE to make the save. A wild, virile Holtbeast needs room to roam.
6. Then it was Evgeny Kuznetsov’s turn to Deny or Be Denied. Cruising into the zone with the puck, Kuzy ducked, dived, and deked his way to the crease, putting one final move on Hutton before appearing to stuff the puck juuuuust barely over the goal line and in for a goal. Video review would be called in from the cold north of Toronto, and upon further review, there was no goal.
After the game, I asked Evgeny Kuznetsov, “Kuzy, was the puck over the line?” Kuznetsov laughed, and answered, “Ahhhhh, it’s hard to see for me. But they have so many cameras, so I always believe them. You know, next time I will put more juice into the puck.”
7. But the incredulous resolve was short lived like house flies. Nine minutes into the third period, Buffalo worked the puck around the offensive zone. Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny appeared to get whacked in the face, and abdicated his net-front defensive responsibilities in his daze. The Sabres capitalized on the de facto man advantage, and Johan Larsson potted the puck to tie it at 1-1.
Larsson ties the game at 1... pic.twitter.com/wLHj0umone— NBC Sports Capitals (@NBCSCapitals) December 22, 2018
8. But more shenanigans were afoot! With Carter Hutton playing the puck behind the Sabres net, Evgeny Kuznetsov came swooping around and accosted him, taking the puck and his necklace and telling him, “Run that.” Kuzy quicky found a crashing Tom Wilson with the pass, and Wilson potted the gaping empty netter for the eventual game-winner, 2-1.
I asked Kuznetsov what he had seen from Hutton’s tendencies in his game that led him to believe he had a chance to pick his pocket. “I feel like I skate pretty well over there...Every time you see the goalie handle the puck you have to go there and just hoping for mistake. If you look at the whole play back, all three guys got speed. It’s always easy to forecheck when all three forwards got speed. It end up a huge goal for us and huge points for us.”
9. Buffalo would get one last power play in the dying minutes of the game for an extended 6-on-4 chance, but it wasn’t enough, and the Capitals walked away 2-1 winners.
10. Braden Holtby was lights out like faulty Christmas trees. He saved 36 of 37 shots for a .973 SV%. Not bad, Holts. Not bad at all.
Back in the win column as victors of six of their last seven, and the Capitals march on.
Next up is the Senators in Ottawa on Saturday night.