Tonight began a six-game span of playing at home for the Capitals after going 2-0-2 to start the season on the road. Unfortunately tonight also started a stretch of at least four games without some big guns, as Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kunzetsov, Dmitry Orlov, and Ilya Samsonov are all out following COVID protocol. That’s elite scoring, elite playmaking, defensive stability, and the starting goaltending not on the ice. No matter what team it is, missing that much talent will be a tough trial.
Despite that loss, and an in-game injury, the Capitals were able to pull out a win via shootout - and grabbing any points while this shorthanded is a huge plus.
Plus: it was going to be for Tom Wilson, who was just so dominant again and has been the Capitals best player in this early season. But the hockey gods stepped in, and Wilson left early in the third period with an injury that hopefully isn't too bad... because the Capitals desperately need him.
Minus: The fourth line and bottom pair seemed to get outplayed throughout the game, especially the first period where seemingly every time they were on the ice they let up a scoring chance against. That's actually somewhat odd for that group, which includes Carl Hagelin, Nic Down, Garnett Hathaway, Nick Jensen, and Zdeno Chara.
Zdeno Chara collected his first point with the @Capitals.— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) January 23, 2021
He became the fifth defenseman in NHL history to record a regular-season point at 43 or older, joining Chris Chelios (7-27—34), Doug Harvey (2-20—22), Tim Horton (1-14—15) and Allan Stanley (1-5—6). #NHLStats https://t.co/GYt1ibQ59i
Ten more notes on the game:
- As stated above, the bottom pairing didn’t play well tonight. And it was the ever reliable Chara who turned the puck over behind the net that allowed the first goal of the game.
- With a little less than four minutes in the first Tom Wilson was able to redirect a Brenden Dillon shot that hit the Sabres’ goalie, Linus Ullmark, leaving an open net for Nicklas Backstrom to put in tying up the game.
- Vitek Vanecek had a rough outing his last game, but he made some strong saves in the first - none more beautiful than a side-to-side save to deny the Sabres' best power play scorer, Victor Olofsson, an open net chance with Buffalo on the power play. Later he stoned former 40-goal scorer Jeff Skinner on a breakaway. His issue in his first two outings this season was rebound control, but tonight he only had two bad rebounds, which is a positive sign (and he was perfect in the shootout).
- In this early season the Capitals have been quite poor in the second period and this game trended the same way. Thankfully they were able to get some offense out of it, too, turning a shift in which they were getting hemmed in their zone into a goal the other way. Once they got out of the D zone, Jakub Vrana was able to feed Dowd in the slot who one timed it post and in.
- Brian Pinho made a great defensive effort in the neutral zone mid second period but unfortunately the puck bounced off his glove weird and allowed Dylan Cozens to get the puck in on an odd man rush and sniped a goal. Of course, it was his first NHL goal, only the millionth first NHL goal the Capitals have allowed.
- The Capitals got a little bit of a lucky goal to take the lead a couple of minutes later when Chara shot a rocket that hit Ullmark, then bounced off a defender and right to a waiting Vrana for the big rebound.
- Shortly after it was back to bad luck when Pinho lost his stick and in going to retrieve it, he left his man unmarked and allowed the Sabre to push to the front of the net and sneak in a puck far post.
- This is now two games in a row that T.J. Oshie has taken an ill-advised third period penalty. Last game it was Oshie sitting in the box while the Penguins tied the game; luckily this time it didn’t cost the Capitals at all (on the scoresheet, at least). But with the Caps so shorthanded already and Oshie being one of the team's leaders, he can’t take those penalties - especially in crucial times of the game.
- The Sabres almost went two full games without getting called for a penalty against the Caps, making it all the way to the 19:51 mark of the third before finally getting nabbed. The Caps were unable to convert in regulation and failed to cash in on the 4-on-3 to open overtime. Backstrom did get a great chance in the slot, but you could tell the team was especially missing guys like Ovechkin and Kuznetsov, either of whom could've helped out.
- Another shootout! Without Ovechkin and Kuznetsov, and with Ullmark being an ace in the shootout, it was looking like the Capials weren’t going to get the extra point. But thanks to Vanecek's perfect play and Carlson with the nifty five-hole goal, the Capitals left with two points.
Winning tonight’s game was huge for the Capitals who are still trying to learn a new system with little practice AND now playing without some big names. It’s probably going to be ugly for the next little bit but as long as they are pulling points from somewhere they should be able to keep pace with the league.
Next up, it's the Sabres again, Sunday at 3PM.