The Buffalo Sabres thought they could play heavy hockey with the Washington Capitals on Monday night in the first meeting of the season between these two clubs.
Boy, were they wrong.
The Caps received an early second period goal from Alex Ovechkin and then Jay Beagle scored with just over seven minutes remaining in period two to notch the only two tallies in a physical, and at times, dirty effort on the part of Buffalo, in a Washington 2-0 victory.
This was a game in which there was the potential for a Capitals letdown. The Sabres are a mediocre team and the Caps are arguably the best squad in the NHL. Washington not only can beat you with skill, but they also have size and will punish you physically. If there is a style that doesn’t fit the Capitals, it is usually a high speed, end to end type of contest. On this night, for some reason Buffalo thought they could intimidate Washington. That wasn’t going to happen.
The Sabres, who seemed to get more and more frustrated with their inability to score on Braden Holtby (31 saves) as the game went on, routinely sent players into the crease area in an attempt to disrupt the Holtbeast (and possibly injure him). Yet somehow none of the sequences where the Sabres crashed into Holtby, to include Tyler Ennis late in period three and Johan Larson in period two, were whistled for goaltender interference penalties? Bylsma and company were basically playing cheap hockey to try and stay in the contest.
Speaking of cheap, Nicolas Deslauriers, who had only three goals and four assists heading into Monday’s tilt in 34 games, roughed Justin Williams in the face in the neutral zone in period two and then clipped #14 with his stick as Williams fell to the ice after the clear roughing infraction. Justin was bleeding heavily and had to go to the locker room for repairs. That was six penalty minutes that could have easily been called, but referee Dave Lewis, who was looking directly at the play, called nothing!
Michael Latta would rightly stick up for Williams and take on a bigger Deslaueries a few shifts later. The Sabre won the fight in a decision, but judging by his circus type reaction, you’d have thought he knocked out Muhammad Ali. What a clown and between the cheap hit on Williams and the fight, that rough stuff seemed to really galvanize the Capitals.
As a result, Washington picked up their intensity and threw the body around themselves, cleanly and effectively, rattling a young Buffalo squad.
The good news is despite the cheap stuff and the lack of Sabres penalties the Caps were easily able to defeat both the zebras and the dirty Sabres on this night. Buffalo rarely had quality scoring chances while the Caps had some grade A opportunities that they just couldn’t bury either shooting wide or due to pucks bouncing over their sticks. In addition, they tended to over pass themselves out of potential shot attempts on several occasions. That’s a recent trend that needs to be corrected.
But after the rough stuff really was initiated by Buffalo in period two, I knew the Caps would not back down nor be intimidated and intensity would not be an issue the rest of the way. I was right, this team sticks together, and the Capitals pretty much gave the Sabres nothing over the last 25+ minutes to win once again.
Buffalo’s best chance came with 1:01 left and the goalie pulled when Evander Kane appeared to have an easy back side goal with a seemingly open net only to see the Holtbeast snag the shot out of the air with his glove. It was vintage Holtby, who won his NHL leading 23rd game and completed his 2nd shutout of the season.
Washington’s winning streak now stands at eight games and they improved to 27-6-2 (56 points). The Capitals have a dozen point lead over the Rangers in the Metropolitan Division, with two games in hand. They were able to win on Monday in Buffalo without John Carlson, their #1 defensemen, who was unable to play due to a lower body injury.
Perhaps Bylsma felt that his club could play physical with Carlson and Brooks Oprik out and young Connor Carrick in the lineup? If so, he forgot that the Caps have their own forwards that can pound the opposition to include Ovechkin and Tom Wilson. Again, bad strategy by the Sabres.
Simply put, when it was all over and done, it was Barry Trotz’ men left standing vs. Disco Dan Bylsma’s boys when it came to who was the best at heavy hockey in this affair.
Now the two teams will get it on again on Wednesday at the Verizon Center. Coach Trotz will have last change and you can bet that Washington will be motivated to defeat the Sabres once again given the chippy nature at which Buffalo played on Monday.
Notes: Wilson had an assist on Beagle’s goal, his third in two games. #43 retrieved a loose puck in the offensive zone and fired it at the cage. It struck a Sabre defender en route and ricocheted off of the back boards right to #83, who deposited it into the empty cage behind Linus Ullmark (24 saves)…the Caps first goal by Ovechkin came after a furious forecheck from the Gr8 and his linemates, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. Both #19 and #77 earned an assist on the goal…Lewis and the other official, Chris Rooney (aka, Rooney Tunes), were clearly not watching the same contest I was viewing and at the end of the night, the power plays were three to one for the Sabres; that’s pathetic…officially, shot attempts were 56-50 for Buffalo, but the Caps had 9 giveaways and Buffalo had 9 takeaways…Latta didn’t return after his fight due to injury (upper body, but not the head, per @VogsCaps)… Carrick played less than 10 minutes while Matt Niskanen logged a game high 27:25. Karl Alzner played 26:23, Nate Schmidt 23:07, and Dmitry Orlov had 19:45. Taylor Chorney’s ice time was just 12:14.