Nicklas Backstrom works along the half-wall en route to a power play goal. (Yahoo!)
The Washington Capitals rebounded from a disappointing game Saturday to defeat the Buffalo Sabres 5-3 inside Verizon Center on Sunday evening. Getting a goal from Alex Ovechkin 19 seconds in to the game, the Caps also got goals from Troy Brouwer, Jason Chimera, and Marcus Johansson to make it 4-1 in the middle of the second period. Buffalo would score two to make it 4-3 by the middle of the third period, but Mathieu Perreault sealed the result with five minutes to go in the game to back Braden Holtby’s 27 saves. With the win, Washington moves to 12-15-1, good for fourth in the Southeast Division and 13th in the Eastern Conference. According to SportsClubStats, their odds of making the playoffs are currently 9.2%.
One thing that has been excellent under Adam Oates consistently despite the Caps’ up and down 2013 season has been the power play, clicking along at a rate near 25% for the majority of the year. Fortified by power play wizard Mike Ribeiro, the Washington man advantage unit has, for the most part, been regular in its strength off attack (though it, like all power plays, has gone through some dry spells). This is especially remarkable with the absence of Mike Green recently, who is the Caps’ best offensive defenseman and helps run the power play from the point. Granted, this power play excellence has come with a sharp decrease in penalty kill percentage – but fans should be happy with how well the man advantage unit is playing this year. A good power play is very fun to watch.
Nicklas Backstrom had two assists on Sunday evening, matching his offensive production in the 12 days since his three-apple game against the Bruins. Nicky flies under the radar a little more than Ovechkin in terms of criticism, and that’s to be expected. But more needs to come out of Backstrom in general, who is probably the Caps’ best all-around player at the top of his game. He has all the tools and has looked better since being put back with Ovechkin. That will take pressure off of the rest of the roster and help everyone to be more at ease. At least, that’s what you would expect.
Marcus Johansson had a great game Sunday, using his speed to create chances and move well in the offensive game all night long. It’s been a long, long time since we have seen a game like this from Johansson, who struggled for long stretches late last season and was a wreck earlier this year while trying to play through a concussion (so you can’t blame him in the slightest for looking out of sorts). Johansson has been highly touted forver, it’s time he started to make good on his promise and continue to be a creator like he was Sunday.
Matheiu Perreault had himself an excellent game along with linemates Jason Chimera and Joel Ward. The Caps’ small Quebecois center had a goal and an assist after coming back from a healthy scratch against Boston on Saturday afternoon. Criticized by many often, Perreault has had some great games this season and has dealt with the uncertainty of his playing time well. He’s a valuable player for this team and he showed it tonight – even if he does sometimes struggle with consistency. And speaking of Chimera – the Caps’ speedy winger scored his first goal of the year on his 59th shot of the year – he’ll probably score more often in the coming games working off those percentages.
Braden Holtby, making his first start ince Tuesday after yielding the last two to Michal Neuvirth, was great when he needed to be Sunday night. The first goal wasn’t great and the third one was scored off a terrible rebound that was spat right out to the waiting stick of Cody Hodgson, but Holtby made some really nice saves after that Hodgson goal (and before it, too). This is Holtby’s goal, and he will be in nets when the Capitals travel to CONSOL Energy Center on Tuesday night to face Sidney Crosby and the Penguins.
Overall, you want to be impressed with this win. The Caps were coming off a game in Boston on Saturday afternoon in which they were both beat and beat down by the Bruins and, mathematically, their playoff chances are dwindling by the period. But they came out hard, getting that Ovechkin goal less than 20 seconds in and though there were some really interesting moments in the third period, Washington managed to squeak out the two points with a big week coming up. It was the Sabres, after all, one of the worst teams in the Conference, but any two points are hard to complain about at this point for a team trying to make the playoffs. Now are some real tests – an elite Penguins squad that have won nine in a row, consecutively; back to back on the road against the Jets, and then to Manhattan to face what is sure to be a desperate Rangers squad. Meat, meet grinder.
The Capitals will have Monday off; Tuesday’s game against the Penguins is scheduled for 7:30 PM.
Harry Hawkings is a college student credentialed to cover the Capitals for RtR. Follow him on Twitter here for all your news needs this season.