The Washington Capitalse simply refused to die on Saturday night in Buffalo, New York, battling back from two two-goal deficits to beat the Buffalo Sabres 4-3 in a shootout at First Niagara Center. The Sabres took leads of 2-0 and 3-1, but could not put away Washington, who got goals from Alex Ovechkin, Troy Brouwer, and then Mike Green to draw even with only 39 seconds remaining regulation. Despite pressing for much of overtime, the Caps could not get another goal to win the game in 65 minutes, so needed to rely on the sootout. Matt Hendricks and Ovechkin made quick work of Jhonas Enroth in the skills competition to give the Caps the two points and raise their record to 16-17-1, two back of the final playoff spot in the East and five back of the Southeast Division lead. According to SportsClubStats, their chances at the playoffs are now 32.5%.
As good as their final 25 minutes were, the Caps could not have had a worse opening 20 minutes. Coming off a very poor loss against the Islanders in midweek, the Caps were outplayed, outhustled, and outscored in the opening period by a decidedly bad Sabres team, making them climb uphill to get the two points. As great as this win was, the Caps can’t fall behind like that against bad teams and be considered real contenders to win any hardware. They have to play consistent games for 60 minutes if they want to make the playoffs, let along win anything if they get there. Still, the battle-back was impressive.
Read on for more analysis.
Another good game from Alex Ovechkin, who continued his fine play in terms of energy and creation at even strength and his dominance on the power play with another goal. Ovechkin has consistently been the Caps’ best player over the last two weeks, in one of his patented hot streaks that come along despite his offensive decline in the last three seasons. When he is on, there are few better, especially on the man advantage as Ovechkin lurks at that left hand circle, waiting to pounce at the earliest opportunity. If the Caps are truly to make the postseason, Ovechkin will need to be this good every night.
Troy Brouwer is making his case for Capitals MVP with his great play in all three zones and in all facets of this game. Brouwer scored a shorthanded goal Saturday, his 13th of the season, in order to kick-start the Capitals’ rally and get them on track for a big two points. Brouwer has 24 points on the year, plays very tough minutes, and is versatile enough to do whatever Adam Oates needs to do. Can’t ask for much more from this guy, who has proved that he can be a top-six forward on this team beyond any doubt.
Mike Green had a goal and an assist this evening, a nice bounce back after his mistake that cost the Capitals at least a point on Tuesday evening. Most notable, obviously, was his tying goal that got the Capitals to overtime. Everyone knows the deal with Green: he’s dynamic offensively, probably makes too much money, oft-injured, and has head-scratching moments in his own zone from time to time. But this game reminds you of why he is so good and what he can bring to an NHL team that needs offense in big situations. No matter what your opinion on him, you can’t deny that.
Braden Holtby wasn’t great Saturday night, breaking a string of several very solid performances from the Caps’ young goaltender. He didn’t have much of a chance on the first goal, but perhaps the second and for sure the third are ones that he would probably like back. Adam Oates said during this past week that his two goaltenders would split this weekend’s back-to-back games, so since Holtby played Saturday, it stands to reason Michal Neuvirth will play Sunday. Maybe Neuvirth can get another win for his team and give Holtby a bit of a mental break again.
This team just will not die. The Caps have gotten a ton of breaks over the last three days since they lost against the Islanders on Tuesday and made use of another favorable day of play around the league to climb within two points of a playoff spot despite the fact that they did not play very well for more than half of the game. With the easy part of their schedule over the last month of the season starting to wind down, the time is now for the Caps to continue to make hay if they want to make the playoffs. The trade deadline is going to be a hell of day in terms of nerves, but otherwise, it is shaping up to be an enjoyable and tight finish to the season for the boys in red (and white).
The Capitals are right back in action Sunday night against the Flyers in Philadelphia, with a game that is scheduled to start at 6 PM. I won’t be writing a recap of that one because of school obligations, but the game can be seen on CSN.
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.