It was a bittersweet night for the Washington Capitals as they wrapped up their second straight Southeast Division Title but, more importantly according to Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau, they did not defeat the Buffalo Sabres on Friday to lose ground in the Eastern Conference standings. The Caps 5-4 overtime loss to an inspired, playing for their playoff lives hockey club in the Buffalo Sabres, combined with the New Jersey Devils overtime win over the Tampa Bay Lightning reduces Washington’s lead on the Devils for second place in the East to just two points with four games to go.
“[Winning the Southeast Division] is not our goal. Before the season started we said we were going to win and we have one goal in mind and we aren’t there yet,” started Boudreau “It is bittersweet because we wanted that extra point because New Jersey won. We figured we were going to win the division. We didn’t think we were going to lose five in a row and Carolina end up winning 12 in a row. I mean they might win the 12 in a row but we’ve got to get smarter to be able to play better. We had guys staying on too late, we had guys doing cross ice passes in overtime…it’s just not a smart play,” finished Boudreau.
The Caps went 3 for 7 on the power play and are now number one in the league in that category. However, they had two lengthy 5 on 3 power plays but only scored once on those two man advantages. They were outscored 4-1 at even strength and Boudreau reiterated that it was due to mental mistakes.
“We want to be the number one at everything, if we can. If our power play is going well, we dictate a lot of the way the game is played. Teams that might be physical teams don’t want to play physical because of the fact they might take penalties. We’ve got to start scoring more five-on-five goals. When one thing goes good, something else usually goes bad. We want everything to go good. The power play can’t be good at the expense of five-on-five. When it comes down to it in the playoffs, usually after the series settles down teams only [get three or four power play chances]. Penalties definitely aren’t called as much on the little things in the playoffs as they are in the regular season,” said Boudreau.
As for Buffalo being desperate, needing to win every game from here on out (and the Caps are hoping the Sabres can defeat the Devils in Buffalo on Saturday night), and playing at a high energy level, Boudreau commented, “We played a team that if you look on paper, boy they’re pretty good. They ran into some injuries and some bumps on the road, but they’re a dangerous team if they make the playoffs. Their first two lines are as good as anybody’s, their defense is solid and they’ve got one of the best goalies in the league. I thought we matched their energy. That was a great test for us as far as a playoff-type game.”
#1 goalie Jose Theodore was given the night off and rookie Simeon Varlamov got the call in net. Varlamov was 3-0 coming into this contest so he suffered his first defeat at the NHL level. The first three goals went off of Capitals before entering the net but Boudreau wasn’t about to say they were lucky.
“I think everything evens out. [Tim] Connolly misses a wide open shot [in the opening minute] so then one goes in off our foot. Do you sit there and say ‘oh geez it went off Kozi’s [Viktor Kozlov] leg?’ No they should have had a goal anyway so it evens out in the end. Yes they were tough breaks but when you win you make your own breaks,” said Boudreau on the deflections.
As for the goals that got by Varlamov, Boudreau said, “They were tough goals. Redirect goals. Only the last one I thought there was much he could have done about it. Obviously, when [Jason] Pominville scored [the game winner] he made a good shot, he’s a good player.”
Here are my comments and thoughts on the game, including some quotes from Sergei Fedorov:
Varlamov: I thought he was very good in the second period but did not look comfortable in the first and third periods where he struggled to control his rebounds. In his defense, the guys in red in front of him had several breakdowns, especially in the defensive zone, that made it difficult for him to figure out where the shots were going to come from causing #40 to flop, at times, all over the crease. This was especially apparent on the fourth Buffalo goal.
Aucoin: Keith Aucoin came into tonight’s game with a goal, two assists and a plus five rating in seven games but he had a rough one on Friday. In the third period, when he was on the ice with Dave Steckel and Matt Bradley the trio gave up several quality scoring chances and had numerous giveaways. In fact it was an Aucoin giveaway on a simple play on the right wing boards that started the whole sequence that allowed Maxim Afiingenov to tie the game at four with 9:39 remaining.
Ovechkin: The Great #8, Alexander Ovechkin, had a goal (his 55th) and two assists but was -2 for the contest. He was called for a very questionable goalie interference penalty in the third period (he was shoved into Sabres goalie Ryan Miller by the Sabres defenseman) and he had trouble getting clean shots off due to some good play by the Buffalo defense. Ovechkin now has 104 points on the season and trails the Penguins and NHL leader, Evgeni Malkin, by four points [Malkin has played two more games as Alexander the Great missed two games while in Russia visiting his ailing grandfather early in the year and the game against Toronto due to a bad foot. The Pens have five games left and the Caps have four remaining].
Fedorov: Sergei Fedorov had two goals that he called “lucky shots” but he also took a very lazy hooking penalty behind the Buffalo net in the second period that led to the Sabres third goal on the power play (Buffalo was 1 for 5). He also made the horrible cross ice pass in overtime, on his backhand no less, that led to the game winning goal [and Mike Green made a bad change and defenseman Jeff Schultz didn't properly read the play instead opting to hit Tim Connolly which allowed #19 to find a wide open Pominville streaking down the slot - and he then beat Varlamov five hole]. Fedorov knows that he should have gone off the boards instead of trying the wild cross ice feed intended for Ovechkin. Here is what #91 had to say afterwards about the contest:
“It was a tough game, I think they played great as a team, they skate well and we know that. We tried to match their push and try to play as best as we can. It’s obviously tough stats but we are looking forward to our next game, I guess we’ll talk about [the 4-1 even strength goal deficit] tomorrow and try to clean up some plays in there and try to be stronger in our zone. I think we matched every thing they got [from an energy standpoint] overall but defensively we could have played a little bit better,” said the three time Stanley Cup Champion.
When asked what the team’s emotions and thoughts were after the contest on a night they won the Southeast Division for the second straight season, the two time Selke Trophy winner commented, “pretty much like we lost the game and after that we don’t think much about it.”
Other stats, facts, and comments: The Caps won the face-off battle 44-30. Green led all players in ice time with 28:13. Milan Jurcina and Tom Poti were paired together and were -2. Poti is struggling right now, in my opinion. Brooks Laich had two assists and was one of the better Caps on Friday.
Next up for the Caps are the Atlanta Thrashers on Sunday at 3pm at the Verizon Center.