Quick Hits: Sabres at Capitals

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On Monday night, the Buffalo Sabres hosted the Washington Capitals, and were shut out on home-ice.

The Sabres would get its second crack at beating the Capitals on Wednesday, as both teams would meet to close out their home-and-home series in Washington at the Verizon Center.

Before the game, the Capitals recalled forward, Zach Sill from the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League to replace Michael Latta in the lineup. Latta was hurt in a fight with Sabres forward, Nic Deslauriers on Monday. The Capitals did not appreciate Deslauriers’ antics after the fight, and many thought that Wednesday’s matchup was going to be a physical affair.

The first period did get off to a physical start as Rasmus Ristolainen came out throwing the body. Just seconds into the hockey game, Ristolainen threw a nice body check along the boards on Capitals captain, Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin would get up, and take a retaliation penalty to give Buffalo an early powerplay. However, Buffalo was unable to come up with anything on the man-advantage.

Buffalo would find the board first, as Brian Gionta would be on the receiving end of a nice passing play to put the Sabres ahead, 1-0. The play started with a nice drop pass from Zemgus Girgensons to Jack Eichel. Eichel took the puck to the slot, and then dropped a nice backhand pass to Gionta going to the net. Gionta’s shot just trickled through Braden Holtby, and the puck just barely got over the goal-line.

The Sabres would hold the 1-0 lead heading into the first intermission, but the Capitals would out-shoot the Sabres, 14-10.

In the second period, The Capitals continued to put up the pressure on the Sabres. Just a bit over the halfway point of the second period, Ovechkin may have turned the tide of the game with a hit on Tyler Ennis. Ennis would leave the game after the hit, and did not return with an upper-body injury.

Just about four minutes later, Justin Williams would tie the contest at the 14:08 mark after Chad Johnson gave Williams a nice present with a bow on top in behind the net.

With 1:07 left in the second period, Girgensons would cash in a loose puck in front of the Capitals net to put Buffalo back in the lead. Eichel, from his knees, put a backhander towards the net that Holtby re-directed off of his defender and up into the air. The puck would come down to Girgensons in front of the net, and he put it in the net for his first goal since December 1 against the Detroit Red Wings.

Buffalo would lead once again heading into the intermission, but the Capitals were pressing hard, and led in shots on goals with 28 total shots to Buffalo’s 19.

In the third, the Capitals’ persistence would finally pay off as Ovechkin would tie the game just 1:24 into the period.

After Evander Kane took a penalty with 12:34 left to go in the third, Marcus Johansson and the Capitals took advantage of the powerplay to take the lead. Just 1:24 later, Andre Burakovsky would beat Johnson through the five-hole to give Washington a two-goal lead.

Buffalo’s comeback effort would come up short, as Ovechkin would score his second of the night in the empty net with 1:13 left in the game to put the game to bed.

Buffalo would end up being out-shot in the game, 43-27 and would go 0-4 on the powerplay.

And now, everyone’s favorite part, the quick hits!

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    • Capitals best team in the NHL

It is very hard to argue the fact that Washington has been the National Hockey League’s best team over the past nine games.

Washington has won its past nine games, and has won 16 of the team’s last 18 games. After Wednesday’s win, the Capitals are now sitting alone atop the NHL standings with 58 points, just one point ahead of the Dallas Stars.

Alex Ovechkin adds to his goal total this season with two more against the Sabres on Wednesday. Ovechkin now has 20 goals on the season, and is tied for the team lead in points with 33.

Washington is the league’s second leading scoring team with 115 goals this season, but have been getting contributions from everywhere on the ice. 23-year old, Evgeny Kuznetsov is tied with Ovechkin for points with 33, and is tied for the team lead in helpers with Nicklas Backstrom at 22.

Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie are both having great first seasons with the Capitals, as they both have 24 points on the season. Oshie is second on the Capitals in goals with 13.

As for Braden Holtby, he is the league’s best goalie right now, as he now has a league-high 24 wins on the season. Holtby has also shut the door, as he has a 1.86 goals-against average and a .934 save-percentage. Both of those totals are in the top three of the NHL among goalies who have played more than 10 games this season.

The Capitals will look to win its tenth straight game on Thursday night against the Carolina Hurricanes In Raleigh, North Carolina.

    • Girgensons-Eichel-Gionta line was electric

The shuffling of lines by Sabres head coach, Dan Bylsma continued on Wednesday night. This time, he moved Evander Kane and Tyler Ennis off of Eichel’s line, and inserted in Gionta and Girgensons. Right off the bat, all three came out flying and looking to create some magic.

On Buffalo’s first goal, the three of them all chipped in to help put the Sabres on the board for the first time against Washington this season.

On Buffalo’s second goal, Eichel won the faceoff and was determined to get the puck on net for a chance. Girgensons tracked the puck as it bounced up in the air, and he was able to put the puck in the net as Holtby was completely unaware of where the puck went.

The line would end up with both Sabres goals, while putting up eleven of Buffalo’s 27 shots on goal.

Eichel, with six of those eleven shots, was arguably Buffalo’s best player all night. Eichel was skating better than many of his teammates, and he was creating a ton of chances for his teammates. Eichel has been great since posting his four point night against the Bruins on Saturday night, and has appeared to have an extra step in his game since then.

As for Girgensons, he played his best game in a long while on Wednesday. His assist on Gionta’s first period goal was his first point since December 4 against the Arizona Coyotes.

Gionta was also able to snap his pointless drought, as he scored his first point since December 7 against the Vancouver Canucks.

If this line can continue to play as well as it did on Wednesday, it will be hard for Bylsma to split up his top-two lines. If that’s the case, we actually have a top-two set of lines.

    • Oh no, Bogo

Let us just say that Wednesday night was one of the worst games Zach Bogosian has had in a Sabres uniform.

Bogosian was consistently making some baffling plays with the puck all night, and found himself out of position quite often against a team who will go for the throat if someone made a mistake.

Bogosian was also not playing as physical as he can in front of Johnson in goal. On Ovechkin’s third period goal, Bogosian was catch watching the puck instead of trying to take Ovechkin out of the play.

Bogosian finished the game with two hits, three blocked shots, a penalty and a minus-4 rating in 22:17 of total ice-time.

A few weeks back, it was Bogosian’s partner, Jake McCabe who’s game was struggling and needed to take a seat in the press box to regroup. Is it Bogosian’s turn to take a seat? If he struggles as bad as he did in Washington, yes.

    • Ooof, Chad

While Chad Johnson has been very good in net for the Sabres over the past stretch of games, Wednesday night he did not look himself.

While Johnson was peppered with 42 shots on goal, he had a terrible giveaway in behind the net on William’s second period goal.

In the third period, he was burned by a Kuznetsov no-look pass to Ovechkin to tie the game. Later, he gave a soft goal to Burakovsky through his five-hole to put Washington ahead by two with 10:04 left in the game.

While it was a head-scratcher to play Linus Ullmark on Monday when Johnson played so well against Boston, Johnson should have been better with an extra day’s rest.

With the Sabres playing a back-to-back on Wednesday and Thursday, we could see Ullmark in net once again on Thursday.

    • One more game in 2015

It is hard to believe that the 2015 calendar year has already come and gone.

It began with the Sabres going winless, and pointless, in January last season in one of the worst seasons in franchise history.

Now, it will end with Buffalo hosting the New York Islanders on Thursday night at the First Niagara Center. With it being New Year’s Eve, the game is a 6 p.m. face-off in Buffalo.

2016

Written by Brayton Wilson

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