BUFFALO – It wasn’t a pretty win, or a particularly clean defensive game as the Capitals gave up three different leads against Buffalo, but two of their marquee players came through to ensure the team would come away with its second straight win. Also from last night, should Sabres defenseman Mike Weber face supplemental discipline for his hit on Nicklas Backstrom?
Five thoughts on the win against the Sabres.
1. The game winner. The moment Mike Green saw Weber cheat toward Alex Ovechkin as the star winger raced down the left wing in overtime Tuesday night, he started yelling.
“Just seeing there was wide open ice as soon as that player went over to Alex, I knew that I would either have a rebound and hopefully pop it in or if Alex heard me — he made a great play,” Green said. “I know it’s tough for him not to shoot that puck but what an unselfish play that was.”
As Ovechkin hit the hash marks in the faceoff circle, he dished the puck across to Green, who was speeding down the right side. The pass wasn’t tape-to-tape but it didn’t matter; Green was able to finish with a shot as Jhonas Enroth dove across the front of the net that sealed a 5-4 victory.
“He screamed so loud I knew he was out there,” Ovechkin said. “I give him pass; it was a little bit forward. It’s good for him, good for our team he reach it and put it in.”
That’s the second time in as many games that Ovechkin, who finished with four points against the Sabres, had a two-on-one and opted to take advantage of an opponent choosing to cover him rather than his teammate on the opposite wing. In Montreal, he fed Casey Wellman for a third-period goal and then found Green for the decisive tally in Buffalo.
It’s a smart play, considering that most of the time defensemen will try to limit Ovechkin’s options, assuming that he’d rather take the shot than pass. If they start to play the pass, well, that just means that the league’s leading goal scorer will have more time to place a shot himself.
“Me and Oatesy talk about it; you freeze the goalie if the goalie want to play aggressive you have to wait and see if the ‘D’ going to do something,” Ovechkin said. “My partner who is going to be on the different side have to be ready for the pass.”
2. Green’s 100th. Back on Jan. 4 in Minnesota Green recorded two goals in a 5-3 loss that put him on the cusp of a career milestone, but he would have to wait 11 more games and 24 days — and endure a waved off goal in New York on Jan. 19 — to finally record his 100th career NHL goal.
The commemorative tally came 10 minutes 9 seconds into the second period when Green drove the net, but made a smart adjustment to try for a wraparound rather than fire straight into Enroth.
“I didn’t have much to shoot it, I tried to readjust in the middle and still had nothing,” Green said. “So I took a chance to wheel around the net and got lucky that he kind of came out to play me.”
Green circled the cage, trapping Enroth on the right side of the net, where he had come out to challenge, and stuffing the puck in around the left post to give the Capitals what was a short-lived 3-2 lead.
“It’s kind of been lingering around for awhile now,” Green said of hitting the milestone. “Feels good to get that one.”
3. Defensive lapses. For as encouraging as it was to see the Capitals drum up goals continuously Tuesday night, they know that they let up after establishing an initial two-goal lead. Sure, some were odd plays but they were made more possible by some questionable play in Washington’s own end.
On the Sabres’ first goal, a waved-off icing at one end led to a rush back into Washington’s zone. John Erskine never seemed to have a handle on where Matt Moulson was as he drove toward the net and then put a shot on Holtby. While Holtby made that initial stop, the puck lay unprotected near his right skate and Christian Ehrhoff was able to come in the play late to chip it over the goaltender’s pad without drawing any attention from the Capitals until he was in the blue paint.
Philip Varone’s goal – another one of those quick response goals against that the Capitals give up so often – was another case of a disappearing Sabre. This time all five Caps were mesmerized by Marcus Foligno and no one noticed Varone alone back door where he scored an easy tap in goal. Troy Brouwer and Brooks Laich were the closest Capitals, both in the slot with Varone behind them.
In the third period, on Cody Hodgson’s second tally of the night, Jason Chimera wrapped his arm around the Sabres forward, then stopped when Hodgson skirted around him, having drawn a penalty. Hodgson continued to drive toward the net on the delayed penalty, faking out Karl Alzner low in the right circle for a shot in the slot that pulled Buffalo even at 4.
4. The diamond. The Capitals have had trouble getting consistent shots and goals from the one-timer spot in the slot, or the diamond position, on the power play. Opposing penalty kills have keyed in on taking away the passes to that player, whether it’s Brouwer, Joel Ward or someone else, giving them more hurried feeds and less time to get a shot off.
But in recent games, particularly in Montreal, Oates noticed that the Capitals were squandering opportunities to feed that spot. So Tuesday morning as the team prepared to take on Buffalo he talked with those on the power play to make sure they saw that option – infrequent though it has been – whenever it was available. The Capitals apparently heeded the lesson because that’s the spot from which Brouwer scored on the power play late in the second period.
It was the result of two smart passes, first from Ovechkin, who had been isolated on the left side of the ice. But he found a seam in front of the net to thread the puck over to Martin Erat on the opposite side below the goal line. Erat then froze the Sabres with a pause, before sending a pass to Brouwer for a one-timer.
Brouwer’s “been a little snakebit there, missed a couple but we haven’t used him as much,” Oates said. “That’s what we talked about this morning with our execution, quite honestly even in Montreal the other night the diamond guy was open a bunch and we didn’t exploit. We talked about it this morning and Marty makes a great play there.”
5. Standings watch. As the Capitals managed to secure two points in Buffalo, three Metropolitan Division rivals failed to capture any. Columbus, Carolina and New Jersey all lost Tuesday night as the race in the middle of the divisional pack continues without any sign of loosening. The Caps visit Columbus Thursday night.
Sixth-place Washington (56 points) is one of six teams separated by four points in the division between second place (Rangers, 59 points) and seventh (Devils, 55). The Capitals are very much in a race with the rest of the Eastern Conference, though, vying for one of those final two wild card spots as much as one of the top three positions in the Metropolitan. That picture is equally log jammed, with six teams within two points of the final wild card spot, which is currently held by Carolina (57 points).