WASHINGTON - Finally, it all seems to be coming together. Alex Ovechkin scored two goals and Tomas Vokoun made 25 saves Friday night to lead the Washington Capitals to their second win in a row, this time 3-1 over the Buffalo Sabres inside Verizon Center. In doing so, they also extracted some revenge on a team that had flattened them the last two times they met by a combined score of 9-3. "In the locker room, we just said we owed them one," said Ovechkin. "We just had to have a great start, and we had a great start." To no one's surprise, that has been a recent recipe for success.
The Caps got off to a good start, earning a power play after only 27 seconds following a boarding call to Mike Weber. And in the exact opposite of what happened on Monday in Buffalo, it was Washington who capitalized right away, as Alex Ovechkin roared down the wing and had his centering pass deflected past Ryan Miller for a 1-0 lead. Buffalo was given a man advantage of their own right after the goal, but several nice blocks by the Caps' penalty kill unit kept the momentum with the home side in the early stages.
As soon as they killed off the minor, Washington was right back on the attack, peppering the Buffalo net with shots and earning another power play just past the midway mark of the frame when Alexander Semin was hooked moving up the far boards on a breakout. Unlike their first power play, the Caps got no puck movement, and the good Sabre penalty kill knocked off the disadvantage easily.
Washington's strong defensive play continued after their man advantage, keeping their visitors without their first shot until seven minutes remained in the period. They also continued to carry play up in their offensive zone, getting numerous chances off of a cycle and very good zone entries that stretched the Sabres' defensemen and forced Miller into some great saves. Despite their pressure, they could not get another, and the period ended 1-0.
In the second period, it was Buffalo's turn to start hot, buzzing Tomas Vokoun's net and forcing the veteran goaltender to make some nice saves. But the Caps broke back and were able to double their lead quickly, as great passing between Roman Hamrlik and Alexander Semin gave Nicklas Backstrom a tap in from the middle of the slot that the pivot made no mistake with after only 3:52.
Buffalo slowly began to gain some offensive momentum of their own after Backstrom's goal, though they could not finish chances that they created off of a good cycle and forecheck largely thanks to nice play by Tomas Vokoun. As the middle part of the frame passed, though the Sabres got more and more aggressive in the attacking zone, putting their hosts on their heels a bit and controlling the pace of play. Buffalo was finally rewarded when poor defensive zone coverage in front allowed Jochen Hecht to capitalize on a rebound after a big save from Vokoun with a little more than five minutes left in the period.
Clinging to their lead after the Buffalo goal, the Caps continued to be dominated in their own zone as the period wound down. The Sabres got several more great chances, prevented from a goal only on the brilliant play of Tomas Vokoun, before the horn mercifully blew to signal the end of the period with DC still ahead by one.
The Sabres came out very hard to start the third period, smelling blood in the water and getting a golden chance within the first 30 seconds; somehow the puck stayed out despite bouncing around in front of Vokoun's net. The visitors continued to pressure relentlessly, cycling very well and giving the Caps few opportunities to try and get an insurance goal. Washington had a particularly close call with ten minutes left in the period when Vokoun was down and out, and only a nice play by Joel Ward kept out the equalizer.
As the clock ticked under seven minutes remaining, the Caps finally caught a break. Alexander Semin collected a puck at the red line and bumped it to Nicklas Backstrom, who went down the wing and pulled Miller out of his net before backhanding the puck to Ovechkin, who ripped it into an open cage for a 3-1 lead to ice the result. Buffalo tried to make it close again in the closing minutes, but could not, and the Caps skated away 3-1 winners.
What a game from the top line of Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Semin. Those three were flying all night and created chances that won the Caps the game, including, obviously, three goals. "They're very good players," said Dale Hunter after the game. "They've played together before, so we just wanted to put together a scoring line." And boy has it worked. All three of the players on that line are scoring consistently and doing the right things in all three zones. A pleasure to watch.
Alex Ovechkin may finally be on his way back. Two gorgeous goals tonight means four points in his last two games and seven in his last five. "It's nice when you make some pretty plays," the captain said. "But they also need to be simple plays. We just have to continue what we're doing right now." Breaking: that will be a huge part of this team's resurgence.
Tomas Vokoun was excellent for the second game in a row, making 25 saves. He didn't get much work in the first period, facing only two shots, but was huge in the final two, helping to stave off a frantic Sabres attack. "I'm just trying to stop the puck," he said. "My job is just to stop as many as I can, and hopefully other people can help us just have one more than the other team at the end of the game." Hop aboard the Vokeswagon again, everyone.
The Caps will be in Columbus Saturday night for a New Year's Eve game before taking New Year's off. That game is scheduled for 7 PM.
Harry Hawkings is a college student who covers the Caps for RtR. Follow him on Twitter here.