It was another big night for the big three on Friday as Washington defeated the Sabres, 3-1. The Capitals’ top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin combined for six points and recorded all three goals in the contest to help push the team to its second consecutive win.
Coach Dale Hunter united the trio in early December but after six games together the combination was broken up. The day after Washington’s 4-1 loss in Buffalo on Dec. 26, though, Hunter put the band back together. In two games since being reunited, they have combined for five goals and 11 points.
The first goal Ovechkin admitted was “lucky” as his centering pass went off Christian Ehrhoff’s stick and past Ryan Miller.
The second tally of the night, Backstrom’s 100th NHL goal, was the result of a pretty passing play. Semin picked off a pass in the defensive zone and gave the puck to Ovechkin, who upon crossing the Sabres’ blue line started the relay. He passed to Roman Hamrlik on the left boards, who sent the puck back to Semin in the right faceoff circle, who passed across the slot to Backstrom.
“We just have to play it simple and you can see how we score. Goals we make are pretty plays but they were simple plays. We just have to continue what we do right now,” Ovechkin said. “It’s nice when you make some pretty plays and you score the goals, especially when the team needs it. It’s kind of good.”
The third goal was a two-on-one for Backstrom and Ovechkin with the former passing to the latter for a shot that didn’t miss. Both the second and third goals hearkened back to when offense used to be a simple thing for the Capitals’ stars, more of a reflex than an effort. But while these plays appear to be coming more easily, the true test for Washington will be if they stay that way.
In addition to the points, Hunter said he likes the way that trio is learning how to work within the simple style of play he wants to see.
“Through the neutral zone, if there’s too many defensive players back you see they’re dumping it more and forechecking,” Hunter said. “They have to read the rush and they’ve been doing it — where skill players don’t want to dump the puck, but if you’ve got too many guys back you have to or you’re going to turn it over.”
In other news tonight, Washington recalled forward Cody Eakin from the Hershey Bears and he made the trip to Columbus for Saturday’s game. Eakin arrived to Verizon Center before the contest so it’s unclear if there was a particular reason for his recall.
To fit Eakin on the 23-man active roster, Mike Green was placed on injured reserve retroactive to Nov. 11. Green is eligible to come off injured reserve at any time, however, and to reactivate him the Capitals would only need to make one roster move.
More on Capitals vs. Sabres: