Washington Capitals Scratch and Claw Their Way To Victory Over Buffalo Sabres

Alan Zlotorzynski@@zlotsportsCorrespondent IIIFebruary 20, 2011

BUFFALO, NY - FEBRUARY 20: Alex Ovechkin #8 and Mathieu Perrault #85 of the Washington Capitals celebrate the game winning goal by Marcus Johansson #90 (not shown) against the Buffalo Sabres  at HSBC Arena on February 20, 2011 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

I never question faith, especially on Sunday. Nevertheless, had the Washington Capitals lost to the Buffalo Sabres today, I would be asking the hockey gods for answers, probably demanding them.

I could already hear Bruce Boudreu’s press conference; it would have been the "we ran in hot goalie today, we got more than enough shots, we outplayed them and our guys cannot seem to catch a break". 

Usually, I chuckle when I read or hear him say those things, but today, he would not have been more right.

Washington outshot Buffalo 39-29 and scored just two goals, in beating the Sabres at the HSBC center in Buffalo. At the end of the first period, the Capitals had nine official scoring chances, four power plays and no goals.

On a day celebrating hockey in America, the show in Buffalo belonged to the American born Buffalo Sabres goalie, Ryan Miller. The East Lansing, Michigan native was stellar today, as he was named the game's number one star in a losing effort.

Washington’s starter was pretty good too, as Semyon Varlamov made 28 saves. This was Varlamov’s first time back between the pipes since giving up three goals on nine shots is the first period against the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday night.

The Caps, playing in their first game east of the Mississippi since last Saturday, looked rested, quick, and ready to play in peppering the Sabres goalie for 16 first period shots. It was fitting, however, after being shut out on their first 21 shots, the Caps first goal would come on a fluke bounce.

Matt Hendricks dumped the puck into the Sabres' end high off the boards. The puck took a strange carom off a divider in the corner. The puck bounced directly to Mathieu Perreault, who was alone in front of the net and somehow managed to contain his surprise long enough to beat Miller with Washington’s first goal of the game.

After having four first period power plays, the Capitals finally went on the penalty kill. Brooks Laich was called for goalie interference, giving the Sabres their first power play of the day. The Buffalo power play took 30 seconds to do what the Washington power play simply cannot do: score goals.

Buffalo’s Jason Pominville took a pass from Thomas Vanek and slapped the puck over the shoulder of Varlamov. Varly came out to cut down the angle, but he never saw the puck, as Pominville tied the game at one.

The second period would end tied at one as the Caps continued to dominate the Sabres in shots, out-shooting them 18-10 in the middle stanza.

Washington did manage to redeem their poor first period power play performance by scoring the go-ahead-goal with the extra man. Mathieu Perreault would again be responsible for the Caps goal, but Marcus Johansson would get credit for the game winner with just 9:40 remaining in the game.

Alex Ovechkin skated the puck into the Sabres zone and forced a wrist shot on Miller. The rebound, off Miller’s blocker, bounced directly to Perreault in the left circle. Perreault wasted little time and blasted a shot that deflected in off Marcus Johansson.

Johansson looked as though he was trying to create traffic in the crease, which set a screen of sorts, as the puck just hit him and bounced in the net. It was a bang-bang play, putting the Caps ahead for good in the game.

The Capitals' win today was just their second in their last six games and are now in the midst of a stretch that will see them play three consecutive sets of back-to-back games. After splitting the first set, a victory over the Ducks and a loss to the Sharks, the Caps beat Buffalo today and will play Pittsburgh tomorrow. From there, Washington returns home to play the Rangers on Friday and then travels to play the Islanders on Saturday.

After today’s win, the Caps are 4-4-2 in the first game of the back-to-backs and are 3-5-1 in the second game.

The Capitals must figure out a way to get their power play cranked up. After a pathetic showing in the first period of today’s game, only the extra man winner by Perreault in the third eased the pain a little. The caps are now two for their last 22 on the power play in their previous seven games. In today’s first period, Washington failed as bad as they have all season with the extra man.

They failed to capitalize on four consecutive chances, including a one minute and 35 second two man advantage. Yes, Ryan Miller was spectacular, but the Caps will face great goalies in the playoffs, and when on the road, you must take advantage of your extra man advantages, especially when you get four chances to do so in the first period.

There can be no more excuses. A lack of scoring with the extra man will be this team’s downfall come playoff time, just as it was last April. Jiroslav Halak and the Montreal Canadians held the number one power play in the NHL to a dismal one-for 28 in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs last year.

Caps GM, George McPhee may want to start trying to find a power play specialist before the end of the trade deadline next week; anything to help a power play that now ranks number 22 out of 30 teams in the league.

Washington travels to Pittsburgh to play the Penguins for the fourth and final time tomorrow evening.