For the Caps to win consistently, they need above average games from their three star players.
On Sunday afternoon, Washington got exactly that from Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green.
Add some superb goaltending from Michal Neuvirth (22 saves) into the equation and it resulted in a 3-2 Caps victory over Buffalo, Washington’s first of the season in five tries. It also was Coach Adam Oates first head coaching victory at the NHL level.
This was a game the Caps absolutely had to have after an 0-3-1 start, especially with two road games this week in Ottawa and Toronto followed by home tilts on Friday with the despised Flyers and Super Bowl Sunday afternoon with the hated Penguins.
Fortunately they won it because the real Ovechkin showed up at the Verizon Center on Sunday. The Gr8 was skating hard, hitting (3 hits), and shooting the biscuit (5 shots on goal). He also scored the game winner on a perfect power play feed from Green, who continues to carry the Caps defense (27:58 of ice time). When Ovechkin plays like that, more often than not, the Capitals win.
Oates clearly saw a change in Ovechkin and Backstrom in this one because he reunited 19 and 8 six minutes into period two and more importantly, he put a physical Troy Brouwer along with them. In my opinion, those are the three best players at their respective positions on the team and to “load up” the first line seems to make the most sense.
Washington continued to get another strong game from Joel Ward. #42, who told me at the team’s first practice that he was finally healthy after hernia surgery, continues to work hard and go to the net. He is strong in the corners and is back skating like the dominant player he was in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs with the Nashville Predators. Ward had a goal and assist in 15:23 of ice time, which included 1:45 of power play time. He certainly merits that man advantage time and deservers a spot on the second unit simply because he goes to the net where the garbage goals are scored.
The Caps also did their best job of the season of staying out of the penalty box. They only had to kill off two minors (and the call on Joey Crabb was borderline, at best) and they now are 9 for their last 10 on the PK. On the power play, the Caps did get the winning tally with the man advantage and went 1 for 3. Washington still needs to get more traffic on the opposing goalie because perfect passing plays are not always going to be available like they executed on the game winner. If they get bodies and pucks to the net on a consistent basis they will improve on the 4 for 23 rate they have through five games.
Overall, it was a good victory for the Caps but they beat a team that was without their best player in Tomas Vanek. Washington has dug itself a little standings hole here early and with Tampa jumping out to a 4-1 start, the Capitals will need similar efforts every night to make a run for the division or get into the post season.
With Brooks Laich still out up front and Dmitry Orlov still sidelined on the back end, the Caps are missing two players that I expected a lot from this season. The team is already short top six forwards so Ovechkin, Backstrom and Green along with the goaltenders, have to be on their games each night for this team to contend.
They did that on Sunday, so the club can breathe a sigh of relief. However, the games continue to come fast and furious in this 48 tilt season so there is a very small margin of error going forward.
Notes: Oates showed defensive confidence in Backstrom and Ovechkin putting them on the ice in the last minute. Both did their job in their own end with #19 making a great play to get the puck to Ovechkin for what looked to be an easy open net, but somehow the Gr8 didn’t bury the biscuit on a play he typically scores on 99 times out of 100…Washington dominated from the dot, 33-20, and outshot the Sabres, 30-24…Jay Beagle was 12-3 on faceoffs…Jason Chimera had two assists in another solid game.