|"I put the team on my back, do." Thanks, Alex. Much love.|
The game got off to a rather slow start, as both teams attempted to set the tone early with physical, defensive play. Both Alex Ovechkin and Buffalo defenseman Tyler Myers through big hits inside the fits four minutes, but neither team was able to get much going offensively. Despite this lack of offensive pressure, however, the game had an excellent pace, with no whistles in the first five and a half minutes. The Sabres, however, took the initiative with two quick shots around six minutes in that Washington goalie Semyon Varlamov had to be excellent on to keep the game tied. Despite some attempted forecheck pressure by the Capitals, it was the Sabres who began to establish a dominant offensive zone presence off a turnover behind the Capitals net inside ten minutes. The Sabres got several open shots and good looks in front, but Varlamov again was excellent and his defense sound to keep the Sabres off the board. But Jochen Hecht took an elbowing penalty at the 11:13 mark to give the Caps their first power play. The Capitals' man advantage was dominant, and generated great chances, but Ryan Miller was equal to the task with great saves on Backstrom, Laich, and Ovechkin. Just after the power play was over, Tyler Myers took a boarding call, and sent the Caps right back on the man advantage. Paul Gaustad then took another penalty, giving the Capitals a long 5-on-3 opportunity. But despite, again, numerous amazing chances, the Capitals were thwarted by Miller, who made several incredible stops to keep the Capitals off the board. The Sabres got a chance after the conclusion of the power play, and Varlamov had to be sharp again to keep the game tied. But the Capitals were awarded another power play soon after, when former Cap Shaone Morrisonn took a penalty in front of the net at the 18:06 mark. But this time, the Caps reverted to their old ways on the power play, and did not get good pressure to the net. The power play time passed without incident, and the period ended with the teams tied at 0.
Early in the second, both teams got good chances as Tyler Ennis for Buffalo and Alex Semin got shots off in close, but the goaltenders again stood tall to keep the game scoreless. The Capitals made a great rush up ice soon after and Alex Ovechkin got a good shot off, but hit Miller right in the chest. But after some crazy back and forth rushes that saw more great saves on both ends, Mathieu Perreault converted a crazy dump-in pass that bounced to the front of the net for a 1-0 Capitals advantage at the 6:09 mark. But after some good chances both ways, the Capitals took their first penalty when Brooks Laich got the gate for interfering with Miller at the 8:20 mark. Predictably, just 30 seconds later, Jason Pominville got the puck alone in the slot and pounded it past a screened Varlamov to equalize. Both teams then attempted to gain momentum again with back and forth play, but it was the Sabres who had the better chances and this time Varlamov had to be great several times. Thomas Vanek broke in alone just inside five minutes, but Varlamov slid across his crease quickly to deny the sniper off his deke. Right after that save, the Capitals got a good rush, and the top line got great chances, but Miller again stood tall on Ovechkin and Backstrom. After Varlamov made a great save on an up-ice rush by Tyler Ennis, Boyd Gordon got a partial breakaway of his own off a turnover; however Miller again was there with the save. Little happened over the final minute of the frame, and the period ended tied at one.
The third period got off to a bad start for the Caps as the Sabres got excellent offensive pressure early, and Mathieu Perreault took a bad penalty at the 2:23 mark as his bad defense caused him to take a hooking call. The Sabres again cranked up their offensive pressure during they power play, getting several open looks and great shots on Samyon Varlamov. But the Russian netminder stood tall, using his cat-quick reflexes to kick out several shots in close with his pads, and the Capitals successfully killed off the man advantage. After the expiration of the penalty, the Capitals built momentum off their successful kill and began to press the Sabres again for extended periods. After a long shift by the third line, Matt Hendricks drew another penalty on Shaone Morrisonn, this time for interference, and the Caps were awarded their first power play since the opening frame at the 9:15 mark. After stagnant first 50 seconds on the man advantage, Alex Ovechkin collected a loose puck at the defensive blue line and roared up ice, cutting to the middle with explosive speed and releasing a hard wrist shot. Miller made the initial save with his blocker, but Mathieu Perreault threw the rebound at the cage from the half wall, and Marcus Johansson deflected it past the American for a 2-1 lead at the 10:20 mark, a rare power play goal. The Sabres, however, were not put down by the Caps' goal and game at Varlamov and the Washington defense harder than ever in the ensuing minutes. Just inside eight minutes remaining, the Sabres really began to crank it up again, and came within two or three lucky bounces of equalizing, but Semyon Varlamov kept the Sabres from scoring again. As the time slowly ticked off the clock, the Sabres became more desperate and began to throw everything in the direction of the Russian goalie, gut again Varly stood tall. After Lindy Ruff pulled Miller with 1:15 remaining, the Sabres had the Capitals pinned in their zone, but a couple of timely blocks by John Carlson and Brooks Laich kept Buffalo from getting pucks to the net. Finally, after what seemed like forever, the clock hit zeroes and the Caps pulled out a huge two points.
Semyon Varlamov was absolutely unbelievable. He had no chance on the goal he allowed, as he was screened by his own player on a slapshot from the slot, and his play kept the Caps tied and in the lead down the stretch. Simply put, he made the big saves when he needed to and gave his team a chance to win. Varly hasn't done much in terms of wins this year because he was injured when the Caps could score (thanks, Ben Ross) but is sixth in the entire NHL in both GAA and Save%. He will start tomorrow in Pittsburgh.
John Carlson may have some maddening moments as a rookie, but man, he is a good player. Carlson was all over the place this afternoon and made several brilliant defensive plays as well as great passes on the power play, even though they did not result in goals. He and Karl Alzner have been the Caps' best and most consistent defensive pairing all year, and that is not about to change. A great game from Captain America.
Alex Ovechkin put the team on his back for the final goal. Even though he didn't score it, he took matters into his own hands, cut out any crap at the blue line, and bulldozed his way through the Buffalo defense for a great shot that lead directly to the game-winning tally. He has been the real Ovechkin of late, and I really sense a huge breakout coming for him. It would be beyond big for the Capitals, and the boost it would give them cannot be overstated. Good game, young Alexander.
The Capitals are right back at it tomorrow night when they take on the Pittsburgh Penguins at CONSOL Energy Center. That game will be final of four played against the Pens this year, who have managed to keep winning without Crosby AND Malkin in their lineup. That game is scheduled for 7:30 P.M. and will be televised on Versus.