Just when it seemed as though the Buffalo Sabres had tipped the balance on the ice completely in their favor Wednesday night, the Capitals caught a break by way of a penalty on one of their own. When Alex Ovechkin went off for delay of game in the second period, it was the perfect opportunity for the Sabres to fully catch up.
Instead, Washington turned to one of its most improved sources of strength this year on the penalty kill to find stability. The Capitals killed off the minor and looked back to normal after the brief two-goals against interlude.
Much has been said about the numerical improvements in the penalty kill -- and it has been successful on 41 of 51 times shorthanded in the past 12 games -- but against the Sabres that emotional momentum present from a successful two minutes was as present as it has ever been.
"It was huge for us," Jason Chimera said. "It can give you so much momentum, because I don't think there's no more disappointing thing to the other team than when they don't get any chances and they have to skate back three or four times when you're icing the puck. They just go back and get it, go back and get it. It's demoralizing and it's good for us."
The success of the penalty kill has been a little more magnified these days as well, as the Capitals have had only six power-play chances in the past four games --in three of those contests they only had one opportunity on the man-advantage.
Nearly a quarter of the way through the season, the Capitals have maintained their commitment to sustaining the improved penalty kill and they'll enter Friday's game against the Thrashers with the 12th-ranked PK in the league at 83.8 percent.
Assistant coach Dean Evason has "done a nice job of working with our guys and being harder on us," said Mike Knuble, who is one of 15 averaging more than a minute of time on the PK. "In our meetings just calling guys out, showing them film [showing] you can't do this right here. And it's not like a 'Get 'em next time' sort of vibe either. It's this has to be better, you have to be better here and the group has to be better. He singles guys out a little bit in meetings and nobody's immune; everybody gets it. You're not offended; you want to do better."
FROM THE POST
Colleague Tracee Hamilton examines the impact of a player like Matt Hendricks and what it means to be a good locker room guy.
Coach Bruce Boudreau said that both Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth will play in a game this weekend.
AROUND THE WEB
If you didn't get a chance to hear Ted Leonsis's appearance on NHL Hour with league commissioner Gary Bettman, here are some of the highlights. (NHL.com)
--Brooks Laich caught up with the Junkies on 106.7 The Fan. (For some reason the direct audio link isn't working, so just head here and play the third segment.)
--And Mike Green made his weekly appearance with LaVar and Dukes on 106.7 The Fan. (audio)