Playing it simple and taking advantage of teams’ mistakes earned the Capitals consecutive wins, thanks to a 3-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres Friday night. This is the first time since Dec. 9 when they defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs after a win against the Ottawa Senators that the Caps have been able to string two wins together.
Wednesday’s game against the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers was one of the Caps’ better games of the year, defeating the Blueshirts, 4-1. A two-goal performance from Alex Semin, two points from Alex Ovechkin, and Tomas Vokoun making key saves to keep the game were all part of a storyline that told how the Caps took advantage of a top team’s mistakes and made them pay for it.
Often when the Caps have had a good game one night, though, they have had trouble duplicating that performance. For instance, after the 4-1 win against Nashville, Washington lost 4-3 in overtime to the Devils after having to comeback from a 3-0 deficit. Since then, however, the Caps seemed to have improved, and with Wednesday’s match to back them up, they had a chance to make a statement for the rest of the year that they are still aiming to compete for the Stanley Cup this season.
As much as Buffalo had been struggling lately, especially due to injuries, though, Washington hasn’t been able to beat them under their as already in two bouts with the team, Washington has lost 5-1 in Bruce Boudreau’s last game as head coach, and then lost again earlier this week, 4-2.
As a result of the last two games against the Sabres, the Caps did their best to avoid a bad start, and seemed to have succeeded. From the onset just 27 seconds in the game, Mike Weber got nabbed for boarding after hitting Jason Chimera from behind. The Caps used the power play to get back at the Sabres as Ovechkin moved down the boards and danced around Christian Ehrhoff for a shot at the faceoff circle that lucky break, moving Ryan Miller over too much and past the line for the goal. Simply, Ovechkin took the clear shot and it benefited the team with a goal.
After snagging a two goal lead from a pretty passing sequence including Roman Hamrlik, Semin and Nicklas Backstrom with the goal, the Caps seemed to be in control of the momentum, dominating in shots and scoring chances. Yet, the Sabres got back into the game with five minutes to go in the second period, as Jochen Hecht scored with the Caps scrambling in their own zone.
Still Washington did not allow the tying goal — something that would not have happened in past games. Even though the Sabres climbed back and evened the shots and chances total, the Capitals took little chances to shoot the puck, and Ovechkin was able to get one past Miller, courtesy of a solid pass from Nicklas Backstrom, who was able to have the clear view because Semin hit the next closest Sabre so that he wouldn’t catch up with the play.
Simple and subtle plays like that opened the ice for the Caps to get their offensive breaks all games and allowed them to take advantage of the space. It was especially most important that such plays were coming from the top line players like Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin.
“We have been struggling a little bit and finally we get the stuff going and we’re moving the puck pretty good,” said Backstrom after the game. “We’re shooting and I think we are creating a lot of good chances. That’s what we got to do.
Backstrom added, “Then you have to make sure you play good defense and I think we are all doing that the last two games.”
After the 4-1 victory over the Rangers Wednesday night, Chuck Gormley CSN Washington discussed how Chimera mentioned that in order for the team to win and compete for a Cup, the top players like Ovechkin and Semin specifically will need to “buy into” the “chip-and-chase” system that coach Dale Hunter brings to the Caps. With the performance the past two games, it seems that they have gotten used to the system, and they know it.
“We just have to play it simple,” said Ovechkin, who now leads the team with 14 goals. “We made pretty plays by our simple plays. We just have to continue what we do right now.”
It also helps when the no. 1 goalie makes key saves to protect the lead and has the confidence of the team, allowing for a symbiotic effort toward the victory.
“Vouky [Tomas Vokoun] kept us in the game, made some big saves and we scored goals,” noted Ovechkin.
Vokoun noted that he and his players make mistakes but the communication between him/Michal Neuvirth and his teammates has gotten better, helping the process along in keeping leads and solid defensive play.
Things are coming together, it seems, for Washington, and they have a chance to really string a good streak together with a win Saturday night in Columbus to ring in the New Year with a bang.