The Washington Capitals, who were on a six game winning streak, went in to Buffalo on Wednesday night to take on the Sabres and they were shut out, 3-0, by Ryan Miller (35 saves). The loss was just the sixth one in regulation for the Capitals this season and their overall record falls to 19-6-6.
Due to a lower body injury to Semyon Varlamov and an illness to Mathieu Perreault, goalie Michal Neuvirth and forward Keith Aucoin were recalled from the Hershey Bears for the contest. Matt Bradley was also still out of the lineup due to the birth of his son, Henry.
Here is the period by period play and analysis followed by the post game wrap-up:
End of 1st period: Sabres 1, Caps 0
The Caps once again received an early power play, as Nicklas Backstrom drew a Buffalo infraction, but as they did in Tampa on Monday they could not convert, and this was not a good man advantage as Washington did not really generate any quality scoring chances. Then for just the ninth time this season the Capitals gave up the first tally of the contest. After a goal mouth battle the puck bounced below the Caps goal line and Buffalo forward Derek Roy threw it to the right point and d-man Steve Montador fired it on net and with goalie Jose Theodore screened by a jumping Nathan Gerbe plus his defenseman Milan Jurcina, the puck appeared to catch #23 on the leg and pop over #60’s shoulder into the cage. It was a bit of a fluky goal but had Tyler Sloan, who is once again playing forward, covered the point then Montador doesn’t get the shot off. Sloan would then continue a poor first period by taking a cross checking penalty.
The Caps would kill that one off and Alexander Ovechkin was set up big time in the prime scoring zone after a great Alexander Semin cross ice pass and Ovie appeared to have an open net but his shot went wildly high and wide right. Later Brooks Laich and Alexandre Giroux almost worked a nice give and go in front but the second half of the play did not connect and a quality chance to tie it went by the way side.
The game opened up a bit and Theo made a good save on Patrick Kaleta on a 2 on 1 with Jeff Schultz back, and #55 made the right play by cutting off the pass and letting the Sabre agitator shoot away. Back down the other end Brendan Morrison was set up by Tomas Fleichmann right in front but he didn’t get all of it and goalie Ryan Miller, who is having a great season, made a nice glove save.
The Sabres continued their Wednesday evening trend of going hard to the net and Tom Poti was whistled for cross checking, and it was a very good call despite the fact that #3 was arguing with the referees. With five seconds to go in the period Theodore came up big on Tomas Vanek and the period ended. Buffalo has 1:33 left on the minor penalty to Poti for period two.
Overall this was a sloppy Caps first period and the Sabres are winning because they are going to the net while Washington is over passing in the offensive zone instead of shooting and storming the crease.
End of 2nd period: Sabres 3, Caps 0
Washington would once again stave off a Buffalo power play but with just four ticks left on it Washington received a lucky break as Clarke MacArthur had an open net for an instant but the puck rolled on him and his shot deflected out of play. Ovechkin and Kaleta then traded super chances in close at both ends of the rink but Miller and Theodore each would make nice saves. Theo would then come up even bigger at the 8:45 mark denying Vanek on back to back chances but Miller would not be outdone and he made a dandy glove save on Fleischmann in the slot to preserve the Buffalo lead.
Green then tried to rush the puck up the ice and he mistakenly tried to go through two Sabres. #52 made it even worse when he was careless and was correctly called for high sticking. The infraction proved to be very costly as Gerbe fired coming out of the corner and shot it through Theodore’s pads for the first NHL goal of his career. After all of the great saves Theodore had made so far, this was one he should have definitely had and it was a bad goal.
The zebras continued to be involved and when Roy hit Ovechkin in the back of the leg in front of Miller, the Great #8 went down, but for some reason Ovie was called for diving and the game went 4 on 4. Theodore stopped Vanek in tight as the Sabres continued to play a simple game by firing at the net and going for rebounds. #60 then struggled badly on a slot shot by Henrik Tallinder as he skated in on Poti and Shaone Morrisonn and #10 split the seam between #3 and #26 to knock the rebound home for a three goal Sabres lead. Bad goal #2 by Theodore allowing such a terrible rebound but his defense did not help him either by letting Tallinder go right through them.
Overall it was a pretty pathetic period by Washington as they focused on trying to make the pretty passing play while Lindy Ruff’s crew simplified things by going to the net, firing the puck, and digging for rebounds. Against a Capitals team that does not seem to have its’ legs tonight it is working rather well for Buffalo.
End of 3rd Period: Sabres 3, Caps 0
Buffalo continued to beat Washington to nearly every loose puck and as a result there was not much action for the first third of the final stanza. Washington did finally have a decent shift and Green’s point shot on a screened Miller went right to Morrison at the right post but he was slow to coral the puck and #30 dove back and made a nice glove save and received a standing ovation from the appreciative crowd in Buffalo. The Caps, clearly finally realizing that their best chance to score was to crash the net, started pressing but once again Miller’s outstanding glove hand was the story as he robbed Nicklas Backstrom during a goal mouth scramble. Washington continued to be all over the Sabres and Green sprung the slow skating Giroux for a quality chance but the man who will likely be the starting goaltender for Team USA in Vancouver in the 2010 Winter Olympics denied #33 with his blocker. Washington outshot the Sabres 13-4 in the third period but they still could not solve Miller and the game ended with a goose egg for the Caps.
Post game analysis:
Boy, what a stinker by Washington tonight. Yes, Miller was good for the Sabres but the Caps did not want to skate or pay the price to go to the front of the net until 10 minutes were left and the team down three goals. Buffalo wanted this one much more, did all of the little things, and it paid off so they won rather easily. It is as simple as that so it is hard to find much to analyze.
“[Miller] knew he was going to be really tough to beat but we didn’t get enough traffic and we didn’t get enough second shots and when we did do that his glove hand was good and it was impossible to beat,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau after the contest.
Theodore nearly matched Miller save for save for 30 minutes and the first tally by Montador was not his fault. But the second goal was terrible as Gerbe shot from below the goal line and the rebound third goal was awful, although Poti and Morrisonn showed how to act like orange cones in their own zone by not helping out their cage minder.
The Caps defense was lethargic tonight and making things even worse was the fact that Brian Pothier left the game in the second period after only playing 9:59 of ice time. Pothier brings speed and good puck moving ability on the blue line. Since John Erskine was a scratch tonight he will be back in on Friday but I would rather see a better skating Karl Alzner return. But that won’t happen due to the salary cap and a full 23 man Caps roster, so King Karl will remain in Hershey.
Boudreau broke up the Ovechkin-Backstrom-Semin line in the third period moving the hot Eric Fehr up with #8 and #19 but even that didn’t get Washington a tally.
“Obviously we didn’t play very good but I am going to give them credit because they played their game to a T, I think, but we weren’t moving our legs and just letting the play happen. Until you start forechecking and creating opportunities nothing good is going to happen. We had alot of passengers tonight,” said Boudreau.
There isn’t much to add to Boudreau’s statement. Next up for the Caps is the Carolina Hurricanes at the Verizon Center on Friday. Washington should get Mike Knuble back in the line-up and they will need #22’s net presence to beat a now healthy Cam Ward, who will likely start in goal for the Canes.