After what was described by most players as a strange game, the Capitals seemed to have mixed emotions about their 5-4 overtime win against the Sabres on Saturday night.
On one hand, they were happy to win and move into sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference with 103 points. But on the other hand, this has been a season about the method by which they win — not how many wins they rack up — and the victory over Buffalo was far from their sharpest.
“I’m more concerned with the process of how we played and everything,” Coach Bruce Boudreau said.“I thought it was way too close to looking like last year. So we’ve got to buckle down a little bit.”
One of the best examples of the kind of lapse that Boudreau doesn’t want to see out of the Capitals with only three games remaining before the playoffs is what happened on Buffalo’s fourth goal of the game, which was credited to Drew Stafford.
John Carlson had jumped up ice while the Capitals were killing a holding penalty to Scott Hannan, and was caught up high. As he rushed back into position, a rebound from Stafford’s shot wound up bouncing off Carlson’s skate and past Michal Neuvirth, who had made the initial save.
After the goal, Boudreau was livid on the bench and in his postgame comments explained why and what he said to the rookie defenseman.
“He was up on the rush when we were killing a penalty,” Boudreau said. “I just talked to him about it. I said, ‘John, as great as you are’ — and he does so much for us and plays those minutes — that when it’s under four minutes to go in the game and we’re killing a penalty and we didn’t have full control even, we’re just taking off [up ice]. We can’t do that. Then we have to come back like a chicken with our heads cut off.
“That’s why it went in off his foot,” Boudreau continued. “He was working so hard to come back that he wasn’t focused on where it was.”
--For the third straight game the Capitals lost a defenseman midgame. Tyler Sloan left the contest late in the second period and did not return. “He’s day-to-day,” Boudreau said. “He got his bell rung and we’ll see how it goes.”
--Boudreau reiterated that he expects John Erskine, who is out with an undisclosed injury that likely occurred in a fight with Columbus’ Jared Boll on Thursday, to be able to play Tuesday against Toronto. Even so, if there is any question about the health of Sloan or Erskine, don’t be surprised if Sean Collins sticks around a bit. Collins finished with 14:07 of ice time in his first game in the NHL since 2008-09.
“I thought he did really good,” Boudreau said of Collins. “I thought he moved the puck well, he competed he did a really good job. We just didnt want to put him out in the end because... it’s a pressure-situation-type thing and.... if he makes a mistake his confidence would have gone all to hell.”
--Also if you missed Alex Ovechkin’s game winner, or more importantly the dance afterward, see below.