The previous two meetings between the Buffalo Sabres and Washington Capitals marked low points in a Capitals season that has been full of ups and downs. The Sabres trounced the Capitals 5-1 in late November and by the next game Bruce Boudreau was fired as head coach. Last Sunday, the Sabres outscored Washington 4-0 in the opening frame and cruised to a 4-2 win over the Capitals.
So coming off an energizing 4-1 win over the New York Rangers earlier in the week, the Capitals had every reason to want to prove a point against the Sabres Friday night at Verizon Center. Thanks in part to a two-goal performance by F Alex Ovechkin and some help from linemates C Nicklas Backstrom and F Alex Semin, the Capitals earned a 3-1 victory for their fifth win in their last six on home ice.
The Capitals showed that they wanted no part of a repeat of Sunday’s first period, jumping out to a 1-0 lead behind Ovechkin’s opening tally and outshooting the Sabres 11-2 in the opening frame. They also displayed their grittier side as forwards Jason Chimera and Troy Brouwer both dropped the gloves to the delight of the selllout crowd.
“The players came out and played hard and played smart and created some good chances and didn’t give up much,” Capitals Head Coach Dale Hunter said of the first.
Ovechkin struck just 1:42 into the game on one of the “uglier” goals he’ll score all year. With the Capitals on the power play, Ovechkin entered the zone with speed and sent a pass through the slot that clicked off Sabres D Christian Ehrhoff’s stick and fluttered past G Ryan Miller for his 13th goal of the season.
Backstrom put the Capitals ahead 2-0 early in the second on a tap-in from Semin. The top line moved the puck around with surgical precision on the rush at the end of their shift, forcing Miller and the Buffalo defense out of position to give Backstrom his 100th career goal.
“We have been struggling a little bit and finally we get the stuff going and we’re moving the puck pretty good, we’re shooting and I think we are creating a lot of good chances” said Backstrom.
The Sabres came rumbling back after the goal, tilting the ice in the latter half of the second. F Jochen Hecht finally put the Sabres on the board at 15:02 after Buffalo F Thomas Vanek blasted a shot that pinballed off G Tomas Vokoun’s pad to Hecht who put away the rebound.
By the end of the period, Buffalo had outshot the Capitals 15-6, with Vokoun making several saves to bail out his defense.
“It’s hard for a goalie who didn’t get much work early, but he’s a pro and he was ready in the second (period) when they put the surge on,” Hunter said.
Buffalo continued continued to carry the play throughout most of the third period, forcing Vokoun to hold the lead while outshooting the Capitals 9-4.
But Ovechkin’s second goal of the night with just over six minutes remaining slammed the door shut. Rookie D Dmitri Orlov chipped a puck out of the Capitals’ zone to Backstrom, who found Ovechkin on a 2-on-1 for a one-time shot past Miller. Ovechkin led all skaters in shot attempts with nine and led the Capitals with four shots on goal.
Despite being outshot 24-10 in the last two periods, the Capitals were advantageous, particularly Backstrom, Semin and Ovechkin who combined for six points.
For the first time under Hunter, the Capitals are beginning to string together wins and points, having earned points in four of their last five.In those five games, Semin has six points and Ovechkin has five.
Much like the game against the Rangers on Wednesday, the shot totals and zone time didn’t favor the Capitals. The common theme in both games were solid goaltending by Vokoun and their best goal scorers creating offense. When that happens, the rest of the game can have a funny way of taking care of itself.