Okay - everyone close your eyes and think back a week. The Caps have just dropped their 6th straight game and are staring at a stretch that has them facing teams like Tampa, Dallas, Buffalo...
Anyone out there predict the Caps would take 3 straight to kick it off?
Of course not - we're Caps fans, but we're not that crazy. All of us saw the schedule, hung our heads and resigned ourselves to squeaking by with an OT loss here and there or maybe one win, max...right?
But instead for the first time this season the Caps have put together 3 straight wins, each one coming from a more impressive performance than the last (and a more entertaining one at that). Tonight's win against Buffalo was at times joyous, at other times nothing less than bizarre - and the Caps come away with 2 points against the best team in the Eastern Conference.
So let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start considering the Caps jumped out to a two goal lead in the first three minutes. They would extend that lead after Ovechkin beat Ryan Miller and sent him packing, bringing Martin Biron into the game less than halfway through the first period. Morrisonn would then score his very first goal for the Sabres - the only problem is he plays for the Caps...that's a big oops and a little too Gonchar-esque for my liking. Luckily (for Mo) the Caps regained the 3-goal cushion on a fluky goal by Clymer that bounced up and over the goalie before trickling in to cap off the scoring for the first period, Caps shockingly up 4-1 after outworking and outshooting the Sabres for a solid 20 minutes.
And then things started to get bizarre.
Everyone's talking about this, so let's get it over with: the Ovechkin hit on Briere. I have now seen it about 17 times and I'm still torn about how it ended up being called. Less than 5 minutes in, Ovie catches Briere with his back turned and sends him flying, first into the door of the bench than off the boards. So the 5 is automatic - you board someone, you're getting a major, I'm not arguing with that. It's the way it should be and Ovie earned every minute of that, accident or not. What I'm still unsure about is whether it was worthy of 2 majors, a 10 minute misconduct and a game misconduct.
I just don't think that the intent to injure was there. Ovie didn't get the arms up, he didn't take any strides towards Briere - nothing about it looked purposeful. That's not the way Ovie plays, and anyone who has watched him play these past two seasons knows that. But the way Briere went flying, it's amazing he was able to get to the bench on his own let alone return to play later in the game - and I think that may have tempered the way it was called. The incident will be reviewed by the league but I'm hopeful that no suspensions will be handed down.
A bit of he said, he said after the game:
"He got turned around and I hit him," Ovechkin said, adding that he didn't think the infraction warrants a suspension. "I didn't want to give him some injury. It was an accident."
"He was behind me - I couldn't see it. ... The puck was going deep and I was going for a (line) change," said Briere. "It was definitely late and from behind. It's tough to say whether he deserves a suspension."I understand Ruff's comments to some extent - a coach has to protect his players and will always say this kind of thing after the fact. I just don't really know how I would feel had it been the other way around - I do know that several Caps players have been hit from behind this season, maybe not as badly but still clearly victims of boarding, and some of them have clearly been intentional...not once have I thought ejection was necessary. Thankfully Briere was okay, but it looks like the bad blood has started to build up in what was already a pretty physical game - these two teams meet again in a few weeks, so that is definitely worth tuning in for.
"(Briere) was defenseless. He went headfirst into the boards," Ruff said. "I think if (Washington) looked at it through their eyes and it was Ovechkin going headfirst into the wall, I think they'd feel the same way. We don't need those plays in the game."
(Is it just me or are we starting to circle lots of rematches on our calendars? I guess when a team improves, their games become more intense, bitter and hard-fought...)
The hit would have consequences for both teams, as two Buffalo players were also ejected for instigating fights in retaliation. An injury to Zednik later in the period took him out of the game, too, and just like that both teams were short by two players each. It didn't slow the scoring one bit, though, as the Sabres would claw back from a 5-1 deficit to pull within 2 by the end of the middle frame. That's a dangerous lead for any team playing the Sabres, but luckily that's as close as they would get - the two teams would alternate tallies in the third period and the Caps would hang on through one last flurry in the penalty-filled final minutes of the game. An empty-netter by John Erskine on what was merely a clearing attempt would wrap up the game for the Caps in a 7-4 finish. Whew.
Seriously, an absolutely crazy game but a thrilling one. I can't even really break it down by good and bad because it was just so bizarre - good, bad, ugly and weird stuff was happening all over the ice. I was really happy with the overall game by the Caps, though - they were forechecking consistently and managed to hang on to at least a two goal lead for the entire game, despite again being slightly outplayed in the second period second period and fighting off a flurry of Sabres shots in the waning minutes. The only blemish I could see was the lack of power play goals on 7 chances, leaving them without an extra-man tally for the second straight game - of course, this matters less when you're scoring at even strength...
- Attendance was announced at 17,162, which if I'm not mistaken is close to if not surpassing the high for this season. Too many Buffalo fans, though - you could hear the Let's Go Buffalo chants through the TV.
- The Caps outshot Buffalo 15-7 in the first. The Sabres outshot Washington 14-6 in the second. And the two teams were fairly even in the third, with shots going 9-7 in favor of Buffalo to bring the totals to 30 for Buffalo and 28 for the Caps.
- Pettinger, Semin, Klepis, Beech and Zednik continued to have hot hands, with all 5 picking up at least a point. Meanwhile Muir, Clymer and Erskine exorcised their collective demons as each one snapped lengthy goalless droughts.
- The Caps experienced their second penalty-filled game in the last 10 days, as 117 penalty minutes were handed out between the two teams.
- Faceoffs were dominated by the Caps, winning 60% of the draws - Gordon and Laich were particularly outstanding in that area as each of them won over 70% of their faceoffs.
- Once again the Caps were able to earn a win without the presence of some of their top scorers - just more proof that they are becoming a more well-rounded, offensively potent team. Pettinger in particular has been very hot since coming back from his injury and had 2 goals tonight to continue his point-scoring streak. Add major kudos to Klepis for giving up the body on Petty's first goal...poor guy didn't even get a helper on it for his efforts.
- This marked the third straight game that the Caps have chased the opposition's goaltender early after scoring at least 3 goals - this after scoring only 9 goals total during their 6-game losing streak...
It's going to be interesting to see what happens once Zubrus and Bradley return. I'm guessing Hanlon will be reluctant to change what has been a winning formula so far, but we'll have to wait and see. And we do have a little bit of a wait; the Caps now have another nice long rest here at home as they await Ottawa's arrival for a midweek tilt back at the Phone Booth next Wednesday. Ottawa is experiencing a bit of a resurgence, going 8-2 in their last 10.
Incidentally, they were the last team to beat Buffalo in regulation - should be a good one!