The Washington Capitals arrived in upstate New York last night after a rough 4-2 loss to the Bruins at Capital One Arena, looking to rebound against the last place Buffalo Sabres. In addition to Daniel Sprong returning to the lineup in exchange for Daniel Carr, Vitek Vanecek started tonight’s game. This marks a whopping 27th start of the season for Vanecek, which means he has started in 66% of Washington’s game this year. The Capitals looked something like this when they took the ice for warmups:
#Caps' lines/pairs vs. BUF:— Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps) April 9, 2021
8-Ovechkin, 92-Kuznetsov, 43-Wilson
73-Sheary, 19-Backstrom, 10-Sprong
13-Vrana, 20-Eller, 77-Oshie
62-Hagelin, 26-Dowd, 21-Hathaway
Vanecek vs. Tokarski. #CapsSabres
The Sabres would be without Taylor Hall tonight, as he is being held out for precautionary reasons with the trade deadline fast approaching. The Caps have won their last three visits to KeyBank Center — could they make it four with a win tonight? Let’s find out.
Here’s Friday night’s Plus/Minus:
Plus: After a rough stretch of five-on-five hockey from the Caps, it was nice to see them score three (almost four!) even-strength goals tonight.
Minus: This was a particularly bad night at the faceoff dot for the Capitals, with the Sabres winning 60% of faceoffs. The differential was even worse after two periods, the Caps only having won 30%.
And now, here’s T.J. Oshie doing...whatever this is to celebrate his 400th game in a Capitals’ sweater:
it's the attempt at the knob juggle for us...— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) April 9, 2021
he will get it eventually pic.twitter.com/ihXGlZDVEz
Eleven more notes on the game:
1. Brenden Dillon got the scoring started tonight with an absolute bomb from the point just 2:39 into the game. His blast of a shot beat Sabres’ goaltender Dustin Tokarski cleanly for his second goal of the season, and fellow defenseman Justin Schultz tallied the primary assist on the goal, his 17th assist on the season. Fun fact: the Capitals are 16-5-2 this season when they score the game’s first goal.
2. Exactly nine minutes later, Alex Ovechkin scored his 21st goal of the season on a strange deflection off Rasmus Dahlin’s shin guard and caught Tokarski completely by surprise. In classic Ovechkin fashion, he will always find a way to get the puck to the back of the net when he’s on a tear — that’s 14 goals in his last 18 games, for those of you keeping track at home. He is now just five goals shy of passing Marcel Dionne for fifth on the NHL’s all-time goals list, and only Auston Matthews (19) has more even-strength goals this season than Alex Ovechkin’s 15. Also of note: Dillon notched an assist on the goal, marking his tenth career multi-point game and his second in his last four games.
3. Buffalo got the game’s first power play when Dmitry Orlov was called for cross-checking on Casey Mittelstadt with 7:22 remaining in the first. The Capitals’ penalty kill on the road is ranked second-best in the league at 87.3%, and the Sabres’ power play at home is actually one of the brighter spots of their season, relatively speaking, at 20.8%, good for 17th in the league. The Caps’ PK unit came out on top of this matchup, not allowing a single Buffalo shot.
4. Henri Jokiharju got the Sabres on the board with 1:34 left in the first, cutting the Capitals’ lead in half with a shot from just above the left circle off a feed from Rasmus Dahlin. Buffalo was able to get the play started after Carl Hagelin and Nic Dowd failed to clear the puck out of the zone. Vitek Vanecek was screened in front and the puck went right past his glove. 2-1 Caps, with plenty of game left.
5. With 1:15 left on the clock, Nick Jensen wiped out and caught Jeff Skinner up high with his stick to give Buffalo their second power play of the period. However, the Sabres were called for too many men halfway through Jensen’s penalty with no less than ten skaters on the ice, bringing an end to their man-advantage.
that is a lot of people in blue jerseys on the ice pic.twitter.com/4axsloicj6— Dimitri Filipovic (@DimFilipovic) April 9, 2021
6. There were 45 seconds of four-on-four hockey to start the second period, but Justin Schultz only needed 28 of them to restore Washington’s two-goal lead. The Sabres were caught watching the play, which gave Schultz plenty of time and space to blast a point shot to the back of the net. This is Schultz’s third goal of the season.
Now that's how you start the period pic.twitter.com/vALZZDqjHe— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) April 10, 2021
7. Casey Mittelstadt and the Sabres were able to capitalize on a bit of a lazy play from Washington 10:08 into the second, once again cutting the Caps’ lead to one. Justin Schultz let up on the play looking for an icing call and Rasmus Asplund jumped in on the forecheck to swipe the puck, passing to Mittelstadt off the turnover behind Vanecek.
Tasty goal by Casey Mittelstadt. pic.twitter.com/XieWu3Leqe— SB Nation NHL (@SBNationNHL) April 10, 2021
8. John Carlson took the Capitals’ third trip to the penalty box tonight with 3:40 left in the second after hooking Kyle Okposo. The Sabres were credited with two shots on this man-advantage, but Washington’s penalty kill remained perfect on the evening and even recorded their own shot on goal, courtesy of Tom Wilson.
9. Jakub Vrana took the Caps up 4-2 with a beauty of a one-timer from the right circle 9:48 into the third. He absolutely roofed the puck over Tokarski’s glove, a much-needed slump breaker for Jake the Snake. This was Vrana’s first goal since his overtime winner against the Devils on March 9, which was his second tally of that game. Also of note: Justin Schultz recorded the primary assist, giving him his first three-point game since March 25, 2018.
10. With 3:13 left in the game, it looked like Evgeny Kuznetsov decided to get in on the goal-scoring fun. However, the Sabres successfully challenged that the play was offside entering the zone after a very lengthy review. No dice, still 4-2 Caps.
11. With just over two minutes to go, the Sabres pulled Tokarski for the extra attacker, and with 1:20 left in the game the Sabres once again pulled within one. Tage Thompson tipped in a Rasmus Ristolainen shot that may or may not have also caught a piece of Dmitry Orlov’s stick. This is the second time tonight that a failed clearing attempt has come back to bite the Caps. Thankfully, Vanecek and the Caps managed to hold the Sabres off and hold onto their 4-3 victory.
With the Isles loss to the Rangers tonight, the Capitals are now tied for first in the MassMutual East Division. Up next for the Caps: a Sunday evening game in Beantown, facing the Bruins for the sixth time this season.