October 15, 2019

Washington Capitals Game 34 Recap: Capitals Rally to Stun Sabres, Gain in Chase

BUFFALO | With their season hanging in the balance, the Washington Capitals rallied to eke out a 4-3 shootout win over the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center Saturday night, opening a critical road trip by getting two valuable standings point.

A poor start put the Capitals in a 3-1 hole early in the third period, but a shorthanded tally by Troy Brouwer and a last-minute tally by Mike Green forced overtime, where Matt Hendricks and Alex Ovechkin both scored on Sabres netminder Jhonas Enroth in the shootout.

Ovechkin turned in a tremendous effort in Washington’s only visit to Buffalo, scoring his 17th of the year and also adding the deciding shootout goal.

The win comes at a critical time, as they gain points on the Jets, Rangers and Islanders, moving just five points back of Winnipeg in the Southeast race, and two back of the Rangers in the chase for 8th in the East.

Buffalo – a team missing their top sniper in Thomas Vanek, having traded defenseman Jordan Leopold, and playing backup goaltender Jhonas Enroth – scored just 3:01 into the game and didn’t trail again until Braden Holtby was pulled for the extra attacker. While the Caps nearly won the game in overtime, the shootout allowed Washington to steal two points out of Western New York.

The Sabres started off quickly, cashing in early on a turnover in the Washington end, as Christian Ehrhoff fired a shot past Holtby to put the Sabres on the board just 3:01 in. While Washington got a four-minute power-play when Mike Weber went to the box for a high-stick, the Caps couldn’t take advantage, having difficulty setting up on the extra-man advantage.

The Sabres boosted their lead to 2-0 just 79 seconds into the second as Villie Leino scored his first of the year past Holtby off a rebound of a Tyler Ennis shot.

Tyler Ennis went to the box just :28 after the goal, however, and the Capitals took advantage. Alex Ovechkin scored just :34 into the power-play to bring the Capitals within one, firing a shot past Enroth, and giving him his 17th of the year.

But another bad breakdown in the Washington end proved costly, as Leino was allowed to poke a puck sitting off the post just past the halfway mark of the frame.

While Washington outshot the Sabres 17-8 in the second, the Capitals fell further behind in the contest.

Troy Browuer cut the lead to 3-2 with a short-handed tally with John Carlson in the box for a delay-of-game penalty, beating Enroth with a wrister for his 13th of the year. Despite a power-play opportunity on a Tyler Myers hit on Jason Chimera, the Capitals pushed and couldn’t net the equalizer until the final minute.

With Holtby out, the Caps controlled the biscuit, but couldn’t beat Enroth. However, Green unleashed a shot from the point that went off the post and off the Sabres netminder to earn the Caps the valuable point.

Mike Ribeiro had a golden chance to end the game in overtime with Enroth down, but the netminder put in a terrific glove save. But in the shootout, both Hendricks and Ovechkin netted goals as the Caps moved to 2-0 for the year in the tiebreaker.

With just two games left until the trade deadline – and a chance to gain further ground Sunday in Philadelphia – the Capitals will see if they can cut the deficit further and try and to recover from the poor start to the season.

Washington Capitals Game 28 Recap: Capitals roll Sabres 5-3

Sunday night, the Washington Capitals (11-15-1, 23 points) took on the Buffalo Sabres (10-14-4, 24 points), both teams in need of a couple of standings points to keep their heads above water in the Eastern conference.

Just 19 seconds in, Alex Ovechkin scored the game’s maiden goal off a Nicklas Backstrom faceoff win. His fiancée, Maria Kirilenko, was in the arena – the last time she made an appearance, Feb. 23, Ovechkin scored a hat trick in a win against the New Jersey Devils.

The Sabres got one back early in the second period on a Cody Hodgson shot to tie the game 1-1. Five minutes later, Troy Brouwer scored on the power play, all credit to the slick pass from Mike Ribiero that left him wide open in the slot.

Jason Chimera finally burst the dam on his scoring drought and notched his first goal of the season to put the Capitals up 3-1 halfway through the second period. His last goal came against the New York Rangers on May 9, 2012 during Game 6 of their playoff series.

Less than a minute later, Marcus Johansson scored his third goal of the season, and just like that, the Capitals were rolling over the Sabres  4-1. The Sabres answered, and Brian Flynn’s late tally narrowed the score to 4-2.

After a power play goal by Hodgson, his second goal of the game, the Sabres inched ever closer. The Capitals were ever closer to letting yet another lead slip away from them.

Mathieu Perreault, though, sealed the win with his fifth goal of the season after a crucial late penalty kill. Shortly after goaltender Braden Holtby came up with perhaps his biggest save of the game, Perreault danced his way through two Buffalo defensemen and hit the back of the net.

Final score: Capitals 5, Sabres 3. With the next eight of their next nine games on the road, the Capitals desperately needed to start the week off with a win before heading to Pittsburgh — tops in the Eastern Conference — where they’ll take on the Penguins Tuesday evening.

Washington Capitals Game 5 Recap: Oates Gets First Win as Caps Top Sabres

WASHINGTON–A relieved Adam Oates walked into the press room at Verizon Center Sunday, after having earned his first NHL victory as a head coach with the Washington Capitals topping the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 in a matinee.

For Capitals fans who saw the team stumble out of the gate with an 0-3-1 start to the year, it certainly was a welcome change. Washington rallied from an early Tyler Ennis goal to even the score by the end of the period thanks to a Joel Ward tally, then added a John Erskine goal in the second and Alex Ovechkin’s first goal of the season in the third on a one-timer.

Afterwards, Ward said he felt the team was building off Friday’s 3-2 overtime loss to New Jersey.

“I thought the confidence was there, I thought the mood was upbeat even though we lost in OT,” he said in a happy locker room. “I thought we brought the momentum again today and slowly picked at them and kind of wore them down a little bit. [Read more…]

Washington Capitals Game 5 Postgame Audio: Oates, Ovi, Ward & More

WASHINGTON–Adam Oates finally got his first win as a head coach and the Washington Capitals became the last team in the NHL with a victory as they defeated the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 at Verizon Center.

“I’m just glad, finally,”  Oates said about his first victory behind the bench.  “I was kind of hoping it’d be sooner but I’m glad.”

A big part of the win was staying out of the box, as the Caps only had two penalties on the night and were a perfect two-for-two on the penalty kill.

“Yeah, at least they weren’t coming in clumps, and we didn’t give up a five-on-three, so we’re going in the right direction right now,”  Caps forward Troy Brouwer said.  “But power play got a good goal. You know, we moved it around pretty well, got some good looks and outside of special teams, we had guys like Wardo [Joel Ward] step it up again tonight. That whole line has been great for us the last couple games.” [Read more…]

Caps in Advance: Week 26

Five months, 25 weeks, 79 games…the Washington Capitals’ entire season boils down to what happens in the last week of the season.

With three games remaining, Washington’s playoff future is still very much up in the air. Depending on how this week shakes out, the Caps could squeak into the playoffs as a 7 or 8 seed, win the Southeast Division and secure home ice as the 3 seed, or finish 9th in the Eastern Conference and miss the playoffs entirely.

While a large portion of the Caps’ possible playoff spots depends on the results earned by other teams, Washington controls its own destiny in terms of just getting into the postseason.

Any combination of four points won by Washington or lost by the Buffalo Sabres will clinch a playoff berth for the Caps. That means that the Caps could make it in without a win, if Buffalo chokes away two of its last three games, but there’s no doubt Dale Hunter’s squad would far prefer to win at least two of its final three to guarantee the playoffs on its own terms. [Read more…]

Washington Capitals Game 77 Re-Cap: Caps lose game; control of their destiny

Alex Ovechkin stood at the blue line all by himself. There wasn’t a Buffalo Sabres penalty-killer within 20 feet of him. All he had to do was stop Keith Aucoin’s hard-around pass and keep the blue line. Unpressured, Ovechkin reached down casually with the backhand of his heavily curved blade. The puck ticked off the blade, then his skate, and careened out of the zone and toward center ice.

The fumble gave Sabres captain Jason Pominville (Buffalo’s leading goal scorer) time to catch up to Ovechkin and the puck near the red line. Ovechkin tried to backhand the puck against the boards, but only managed to fling the puck closer to his own goal. At that point, with Ovechkin losing his balance, Pominville — who gives up three inches and 45 pounds to Ovechkin — outmuscled the two-time Hart Trophy winner for the puck and streaked into the Caps zone, now on a two-on-one with Derek Roy against Dennis Wideman. [Read more…]

Caps in Advance: Week 25

As Alexander Ovechkin goes, so too do the Washington Capitals, and Ovechkin has been going quite nicely as of late. Ovechkin is in the midst of a five-game goal scoring streak, potting at least one goal per game and seven in total over that span. After a disappointingly slow start to the season, Washington’s captain now has a shot at 40 goals (he’s currently tied with Toronto’s Phil Kessel for 4th in the NHL in goals, with 36) and an outside chance at 70 points.

Thanks in part to Ovechkin’s scoring streak, Washington has earned points in its past four games, bookending a shootout and overtime loss with a pair of dominating wins against Western Conference foes. Now, the Caps have just six games left in their regular season and the possibility of postseason participation still very much in doubt.

For the final two weeks of the regular season, Washington will alternate home and away games against Eastern Conference opponents: three from the Northeast Division, two from the Southeast, and one from the Atlantic, in that order. Up this week is the three-spot against Northeast foes, starting off with one game that will have major playoff ramifications. [Read more…]

Game 36 Re-CAP: Ovechkin Restores Order, Caps Slam Sabres, 3-1

Alex Ovechkin during warmups at Verizon Center (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Just before the end of the Washington Capitals’ home schedule for the calendar year 2011, Alexander Ovechkin restored a little bit of order to the team’s individual statistics list. The captain’s breakaway goal with 5:50 remaining sealed a solid 3-1 win for the Caps over the Buffalo Sabres, and propelled Ovechkin past Nicklas Backstrom and Jason Chimera into the team lead in goals scored with 14.

The goal was Ovechkin’s second of the night, his sixth in the last 10 games, and gave the Capitals (19-15-2) and their fans some belief that maybe, just maybe, the highest-paid player on the team might be back to his old high-scoring ways.

“We just have to play it simple,” Ovechkin said after the game. “We made pretty plays by our simple plays.”

Ovechkin’s first goal came just 1:42 into the game on the simplest possible play in hockey. With Washington on a power play after Drew Weber was sent off for boarding Jason Chimera 27 seconds after the opening face-off, Ovechkin threw the puck at the net from the half-boards to the left of Sabres goalie Ryan Miller. The shot hit the stick of well-meaning Buffalo defender Christian Ehrhoff and ricocheted over Miller’s shoulder and into the net for a 1-0 Washington lead.

The Capitals should have added at least two more to their advantage by the end of the first 20 minutes (they outshot Buffalo 11-2), but they were plagued by bad luck and poor finishing. What the Capitals lacked in goals, they made up for in physicality. Chimera, upset that Weber had only been sent off for two minutes instead of five for boarding him earlier in the period, took matters into his own hands (quite literally), and the two sparred for a few seconds before Weber pinned Chimera to the ice. Less than four minutes later, Troy Brouwer and Ehrhoff, long on opposite sides in the Western Conference with Chicago and Vancouver, respectively, renewed acquaintances with a brief scrap that ended with Brouwer driving Ehrhoff’s head dangerously close to the ice. Ehrhoff later left the game with an upper-body injury and did not return.

The Sabres (17-17-3) came back into the game in the second period, gradually applying more and more pressure on Tomas Vokoun. But they were caught on the break early in the second period as the Caps completed a beautiful passing play. Alexander Semin intercepted a pass intended for Robyn Regehr in Washington’s defensive zone and dropped the puck back to Ovechkin in neutral ice. Ovechkin found Roman Hamrlik at the left point. Hamrlik sent a pass back across to Semin, who held the puck as long as he could before quickly flipping a pass to a streaking Backstrom, who no one on Buffalo had bothered to pick up as the Swede came steaming down the slot.

The goal was Backstrom’s 100th in the NHL and made the score 2-0 at 3:52 of the second period.

The Sabres heightened their efforts and were rewarded at the 15:02 mark of the second after a long period of offensive zone pressure. Jochen Hecht got his stick on a loose puck before any of the Capitals could clear it and popped the only Buffalo goal of the night past a sprawling Vokoun. The goal was a just reward for the 15 shots the Sabres put on Vokoun in the second period and suddenly, the game was back in the balance after 40 minutes.

The Sabres pressed for a tying goal in the third period and almost got one in bizarre circumstances when Marcus Johansson inadvertently shot the puck dangerously close to Vokoun’s net. But for the final seven minutes of the period, the Caps slowly re-took control, and Ovechkin’s clinching goal was the final triumph for the reunited line of Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Semin, all of whom had two-point nights.

“They’re very good players,” Capitals coach Dale Hunter said, “and they’ve played together before and we put back a checking line together (Hendricks-Beagle-Knuble) and we put a scoring line together. So, it’s just that combination, I guess.

“We have been struggling a little bit,” Backstrom said, ” 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. That’s what we gotta do. Then you have to make sure you play good defense and I think we are all doing that the last two games.”

The Capitals close 2011 Saturday night with a 7:00 p.m. road game against Columbus.

Caps Recall Eakin, Put Green on Injured Reserve

After Friday night’s game, the Capitals announced that Cody Eakin had been recalled from Hershey of the AHL and would join the team in Columbus. To make space for Eakin on the roster, the Capitals placed defenseman Mike Green (groin) on the injured reserve list retroactive to November 11. Dale Hunter announced before the game that Green would travel with the team to Columbus and might return to the lineup next week.

Caps in Advance: Week 12

One of the nice things about the NHL in late December, as compared to the NFL and NBA, is that the league takes a two-day hiatus on Christmas Eve and Christmas to allow players, coaches, and staff to spend time with their families. No games, practices, or traveling are allowed on December 24th and 25th.

As a consequence, the Washington Capitals play four games in six nights this week, after playing only twice in the previous week. Dale Hunter’s squad has a pair of games against the Buffalo Sabres, with whom the Caps are jockeying for playoff position, as well as two home dates against future “conference” rivals New York Rangers and the foundering Columbus Blue Jackets.

Jason Chimera continues to put together the best offensive season of his career, registering his 12th and 13th goals of the season in the final eight minutes of a 4-3 shootout loss to New Jersey on Friday night. Just 33 games into the season Chimera is already four goals away from his career high of 17, recorded while a member of the Blue Jackets in 2005-06, and his +9 is best among Caps forwards and second best on the team.

Meanwhile, in the crease, Michal Neuvirth earned the past four starts for Washington after replacing Tomas Vokoun in the third period of a 5-1 loss to Philadelphia. In that span Neuvirth posted a 1.59 GAA and .940 Sv%.  With the condensed schedule this week Neuvirth was guaranteed to earn some action, but his strong performance as of late may very well earn him one prime-time start in front of the home crowd at Verizon Center.

Games this week:

MONDAY, DECEMBER 26th @ BUFFALO SABRES
7:00pm, First Niagara Center
TV: RIS, NHLN, CSN-MA
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 30th v. BUFFALO SABRES
7:00pm, Verizon Center
TV: CSN-MA

Records:
Washington Capitals: 17-14-2, 36 points, 3rd in Southeast Division, 10th in Eastern Conference
Buffalo Sabres: 16-15-3, 35 points, 4th in Northeast Division, 11th in Eastern Conference
Season Series: 0-1-0

The last time the Caps played the Sabres was the last time Bruce Boudreau stood behind the Washington bench. After a 5-1 drubbing in Buffalo, against a team comprised with a significant number of AHL call-ups, the Caps parted ways with Boudreau, saying it was clear that he had lost the attention of his players.

Now Hunter will have to muster his team’s best effort against a Sabres squad that is still missing several regulars, including stalwart defenseman Tyler Myers and power forward Brad Boyes. Working in the Caps’ favor is the poor play this season of goalie Ryan Miller, whose 3.11 GAA is over a half-goal worse than his career average. Because the Capitals and Sabres play on nonconsecutive nights, however, Washington may end up facing backup goalie Jhonas Enroth both times this week. Enroth (2.54 GAA, .918 Sv%) is 8-7-1 in his second NHL season and is starting to give Miller a run for the starting job.

Washington’s man-to-man defensive system will be tasked with defending against an offense that displays a great deal of balance. Buffalo possesses two of the top fifteen scorers in the NHL, Jason Pominville (11 goals, 26 assists) and Thomas Vanek (17 goals, 19 assists), but the duo only combined for one goal and one assist the first time these teams met. Rookie Luke Adam scored twice, while Jochen Hecht returned from injury to score his first goal of the season and rookie call-up Zack Kassian scored his first career goal in his second career game.

For all the talk of the on-ice product, most of the drama surrounding the Sabres right now surrounds the front office. Buffalo has lost three straight, a schneid that begun with a 8-3 loss to the Penguins on the 17th of December and continued with a 4-1 loss to Ottawa and 3-2 loss to Toronto. While head coach Lindy Ruff’s job probably isn’t in question, there’s enough stress and enough time to mull over it – the Sabres will have three days off prior to Monday’s game at home – that distractions may mount.

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 28th v. NEW YORK RANGERS
7:30pm, Verizon Center
TV: Versus, TSN2, RIS

Records:
Washington Capitals: 17-14-2, 36 points, 3rd in Southeast Division, 10th in Eastern Conference
New York Rangers: 21-8-4, 46 points, 1st in Atlantic Division, 2nd in Eastern Conference
Season Series: 0-1-0

Splitting up Washington’s home-and-home with Buffalo is a mid-week game against the New York Rangers, who also soundly drubbed the Caps 6-3 in the second-to-last game of Boudreau’s tenure. This time, the Rangers will have spent several weeks under the scrutiny of HBO’s cameras for the second season of 24/7: Road to the Winter Classic, an experience with which Washington can relate.

Against one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, the Capitals will need all the help they can get against the Rags and star goalie Henrik Lundqvist, whose respectable 14 wins belie another all-star statistical season. King Henrik has the 7th best GAA (2.03) and T-4th best Sv% (.934) in the NHL.

New York, which is still in the single digits in losses, has benefited from the goal-scoring of Marian Gaborik (21 goals) to lead the league’s 9th highest scoring offense (2.97 goals/game), just one spot above the Caps (2.94 goals/game).  On the blueline, Michael Del Zotto is also trending in the 20s: a +22 in the plus/minus category, to be specific. Early in the season Dan Girardi, who is tops in the NHL in ice time, was earning all the accolades among Rangers d-men, but Del Zotto’s contribution on both ends of the ice – he has 4 goals and 15 assists – allow head coach John Tortorella to effectively roll through three shut-down defensemen without losing anything on offense.

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 31st @ COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

7:00pm, Nationwide Arena
TV: CSN-MA

Records:
Washington Capitals: 17-14-2, 36 points, 3rd in Southeast Division, 10th in Eastern Conference
Columbus Blue Jackets: 9-21-4, 22 points, 5th in Central Division, 15th in Western Conference
Only meeting this season

As far as moribund franchises go, the Blue Jackets are the worst this season. Columbus still only has nine wins on the season, and sole possession of last place in the NHL to boot.

Last Thursday against the Predators, whom the Caps beat 4-1, Columbus took an equal lead by the end of the first period on the strength of a hat trick by Jeff Carter. Somehow the Jackets still found a way to lose, allowing Nashville to score the game’s last four goals, including a breakaway marker by Martin Erat with 8.4 seconds left in the game to give the Preds a 6-5 win.

Carter’s trick gave him 10 goals on the season, a disappointing pace for a player who scored 46, 33, and 36 goals in the past three seasons. Carter was traded to Columbus in July and has had trouble acclimating to his new surroundings, an excuse not available to Rick Nash (10 goals 14 assists, -18), the face of the Jackets franchise, who is on pace for an eight-season low in goals.

Truth be told, there’s not much going well for the Blue Jackets. With the utter failure of Steve Mason (4-14-1, 3.52 GAA, .880 Sv%) in net, backup Curtis Sanford (5-6-3, 2.66 GAA, .908 Sv%) has seized the opportunity to take the starting job, but neither are stellar options and the Capitals should feast on Columbus’ weak defense. Whether they do is a different story.

GAME 22 RE-CAP: Caps Embarrassed in 5-1 Loss to Shorthanded Sabres

As bad as things have been for the Washington Capitals as of late, the boys in red, white, and blue keep finding new ways to reach new lows.

Saturday night on the road, the Caps put forth the type of effort that gets coaches fired and players traded in a 5-1 loss to the depleted Buffalo Sabres.

Jason Chimera scored Caps only goal in Buffalo (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

The home team was playing without nine regular roster players, including star goalie Ryan Miller (but not leading goal scorers Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, and Luke Adam).  Both teams played on Friday, with Washington dropping a 6-3 result to the New York Rangers and Buffalo falling 5-1 to the league-worst Columbus Blue Jackets.

It was clear which team responded to the loss and which team fell further into a slump.  Buffalo out-skated the Caps from the start, out-shooting the visitors 28-27 and out-chancing Washington by a great margin.

The Sabres’ Adam had a pair of goals in the win, as did Pominville, Zach Kassian, and Jochen Hecht. Jason Chimera was the lone Capital to put the puck behind Buffalo goalie Jhonas Enroth, who was outstanding compared to his counterpart on the other side of the ice, Tomas Vokoun.

Washington found themselves in a hole after a lackluster first period which saw deflections lead directly to two Buffalo goals. Midway through the frame, Dennis Wideman attempted to clear the puck around the boards while being pressured by Paul Szczechura and his pass redirected off the forward’s foot directly to a waiting Luke Adam in the slot.  Adam’s slap shot stunned an unsuspecting Vokoun and gave the Sabres the lead.

Five minutes later, Buffalo captain Jason Pominville doubled his team’s lead off a fluky bounce. A shot by Erhoff from the point deflected off Thomas Vanek and bounced high in the air, bouncing off Vokoun’s stabbing attempt to secure it in his glove and landing on the doorstep of the crease, where Pominville pounced to bat it into a vacated net.

Chimera appeared to turn things around for Washington with his 2nd period strike. The winger snuck behind the Buffalo defense to break in alone on net and Christian Erhoff dove to poke the puck away, taking Chimera’s legs out from under him at the same time. It was ruled a denial of a clear scoring chance and Chimera was awarded a penalty shot. His wrist shot from the slot beat Enroth high on the left side, sneaking  under the crossbar and lodging in the protective padding along the post.

Any hope that Chimera’s marker, his team-leading 9th of the season, would reinvigorate Washington was quickly doused on the very next shift, 27 seconds later. Rookie Zach Kassian, appearing in his first NHL game, beat Vokoun with a soft shot from the right half-boards on the Sabres’ entry into the zone.

Washington staved off further Buffalo attempts in the second, and headed into the locker room with a two-goal deficit. Disappointingly, the Caps once again started the period flat while the Sabres came out firing.  Adam potted his second goal of the game just 72 seconds into the frame, taking the puck out of the right corner on the cycle, faking Brooks Laich with a shoulder dip and then wristing a shot over Vokoun’s shoulder on the far side.

Adding insult to injury was Hecht’s shorthanded goal in the later part of the third frame. A fumbling sequence by John Carlson and Mathieu Perreault at the blue line on the power play let Hecht streak in alone on net, outracing Alexander Ovechkin and beating Vokoun with a simple wrist shot to the right corner.

After the game Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau suggested that his team’s plan coming in to the game was to sit back, play defense, and try to beat the Sabres in a low-scoring, one-goal game. When that plan obviously failed in the first period Washington looked confused and outmanned.  Particularly disappointing was the effort of the top line of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Troy Brouwer, who were a combined -11 and took only 5 shots.

Ovechkin was benched for the final 5:21 of the game – not touching the ice after giving up the shorthanded tally to Hecht – and the sense is that Boudreau is running out of players to bench and tactical moves to make before the organization decides if a message must be sent off the ice in order to effect change on it.

Abram Fox is the Washington Capitals Page Editor for District Sports Page.  He has been covering the Capitals from the press box since the 2007-08 season.

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