After a huge comeback win in Boston on Saturday night, the Buffalo Sabres returned home to play the red-hot Washington Capitals on Monday at the First Niagara Center.
Coming into the game, Washington had won 14 of its last 16 games, winners of seven straight games, and stood atop the Eastern Conference standings with 54 points.
Capitals goaltender, Braden Holtby came into Monday’s contest with a league-best 22 wins, a league-low 1.92 goals-against average, and another league-high with a .932 save-percentage in 28 games played this season. Holtby had not lost a game since December 5 when the Capitals lost to the Winnipeg Jets in overtime.
As we came to find out on Monday, no one was beating Braden Holtby.
In the first period, neither team was able to find the back of the net, even though the Sabres were able to out-shoot the Capitals 10-9.
The Capitals would get on the board first just 19-seconds into the second period. Sam Reinhart failed to clear the puck out of the Buffalo zone, and Nicklas Backstrom found it and fed the puck to a wide open Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin beat Sabres goalie, Linus Ullmark high on the glove side, and Ovechkin got his 18th goal of the season.
Later on in the period, the Capitals would extend its lead to 2-0 thanks to a lucky bounce off the back boards. Tom Wilson would put the puck off the back boards, where it then took a favorable bounce that eluded Ullmark in net. Jay Beagle came in untouched to the net, and put the puck into the pack of the cage for his sixth goal of the season.
From there, it was the “Braden Holtby Show,” as he shut down the Sabres for his second shutout of the season. Holtby was tested along the way, as Buffalo would end up throwing 31 shots on the Washington net-minder. Holtby now improves his overall record to 23-4-1, and now improves his stats to 1.86 goals-against average and a .935 save-percentage.
Now, the quick hits!
- Note to self: Never leave Ovechkin so wide open
Alex Ovechkin has been one of the premiere goal-scorers in the National Hockey League over the past 10 years. Over the span of nearly eleven seasons in the league, all with Washington, Ovechkin has 493 goals in 794 games.
While Ovechkin is one of the most electrifying play-makers in the NHL, he can make a team pay if he is left wide open with the puck. The Sabres on Monday failed to contain Ovechkin early in the second period.
another look at Ovi’s goal/Backstrom’s sixth Ovi sense pic.twitter.com/EMdVjynyY3
— Stephanie (@myregularface) December 29, 2015
That is way too much space for the Sabres to give a guy who scores an average of 47 goals a season.
Next time the Sabres play the Capitals, which we will touch on shortly, Buffalo may want to keep someone on Ovechkin at all times.
- Ullmark playing more solid in net
Ullmark has been known as a guy who tends to flop around on the ice, and make some unique saves that most goalies do not even dare to make. And while it is fun to see him make some acrobatic saves, sometimes the flopping around can cost the team when it does not work.
On Monday, Ullmark looked more positionally solid in goal, which led to him not flopping around so much in net. It looked as though Ullmark has been working on improving his movements in the net. Ullmark was not over-committing on plays, and looked much more comfortably in net against the Capitals.
On both goals scored by Washington, Ullmark was just about as positionally sound as you can get, but a bad break and a defensive breakdown here and there cost the Sabres two goals, and a chance to beat the Capitals.
Whole the Sabres failed to find the scoreboard, Ullmark did have a solid effort, keeping the Sabres in the hockey game especially in the third period.
Will be nice to see Ullmark work even more on his game when he returns to the Rochester Americans in the American Hockey League when Sabres goalie, Robin Lehner returns to the net. In Rochester, he can continue to improve his overall game, and help out the Amerks, who have been on a rollercoaster all season in goal.
- Never wake the bear, aka Nic Deslauriers
At the 8:09 mark of the second period, Sabres forward Nic Deslauriers took down Capitals forward, Justin Williams along the boards with a clean check. Deslauriers caught Williams with his stick, inadvertently, and left him bloodied as he headed to the dressing room.
The Capitals did not like that their grizzled veteran was knocked down and left bloodied on the ice.
About three minutes later, Michael Latta challenged Deslauriers to a tilt shortly after a face-off. Deslauriers accepted the challenge, and handled him just fine.
Deslauriers after the fight was amped up, and gave the First Niagara Center some life. It was Deslauriers’ third fight of the season, and first since November 21.
Latta would leave the game with an arm injury, and did not return.
- Holtby the Gawd
Holtby came into Monday’s game with some impressive stats, but what was more remarkable was his stat line in his past 16 games. Holtby came in 14-0-1 with a .940 save-percentage and a 1.69 goals-average.
After Monday night, Holtby inflated those numbers with a 31-save shutout over the Sabres.
Holtby was stellar in the win, as he made some incredible saves to keep the Capitals ahead. That includes this save on Sabres forward, Evander Kane with just a minute left to go in regulation.
What a save by Braden Holtby to rob Evander Kane and preserve the shutout pic.twitter.com/DsrQ2QFqhT
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) December 29, 2015
With the way Holtby has played, he ranks among the best goalies in the league. If the NHL were to give out awards at the mid-point of the season, it may be possible that Holtby would win the Vezina Trophy as the league’s Goalie of the Year. If he continues his stellar play in net, Holtby can still win the prestigious honor.
- Let us do this again soon, shall we?
The Sabres may have lost this battle, but they will get their second chance against the Capitals on Wednesday night. Buffalo will now travel to the nation’s capital to play the Capitals in the last game of a home-and-home series with Washington.
After Wednesday’s game, Buffalo will return home for a New Year’s Eve matchup with the Islanders at the First Niagara Center.