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A 4-goal first period fuels Caps' win over Sabres

A 4-goal first period fuels Caps' win over Sabres

Just 11 minutes in and the game was already well in hand. The Capitals took advantage of every mistake the Buffalo Sabres made, jumping out to a 4-0 first period lead en route to a 5-1 win on Friday. In the Caps’ first game in Washington since Oct. 18, the Caps completely dominated a Buffalo team with the second-most points in the entire league, trailing Washington by only one.

Here’s how the Caps won.

The first period

When you can score four goals in the first period, you are going to be tough to beat. Jakub Vrana had two goals and the fourth line chipped in two more before the game was even 11 minutes old. At the other end, Braden Holtby was very good turning aside all 16 shots he faced in the opening 20 minutes. It was about as flawless a period as you can have.

Buffalo’s mistakes

This is the kind of game where the coaches may just want to burn the tape and move on. It was bad.

On the first goal, Buffalo managed to prevent a breakout by the Caps and held the puck in the offensive zone by forcing a turnover on the boards. So far, so good. Jack Eichel picked up the puck and skated it to the blue line. At this point, the defense commits to the offensive opportunity. Colin Miller sees Eichel with the puck at the blue line so he decides to pinch into the offensive zone. Eichel had an easy pass to Miller who could have taken it up for a scoring opportunity. Instead, he turned around and tried to pass the puck through the pressure from the Caps in the other direction.

That led to a turnover at the worst time. Vrana saw what was happening and took off. Miller was in on the attack and headed in the wrong direction while Rasmus Ristolainen is standing at the blue line. Neither defenseman was in any position to defend Vrana which is why he ended up on the breakaway. You’re not going to catch Vrana at full-speed if you are starting at a standstill. Vrana was gone for goal No. 1.

Just 42 seconds later, Buffalo got caught in another mistake. Rasmus Dahlin received a pass at the blue line and decided he had room to take it into the attack. The problem was that all three forwards were already deep in the zone and no was in a position to switch with him and cover the blue line. Dahlin turned the puck over with a missed pass which launched a 4-on-1 rush because there was no one there to account for Dahlin stepping into the attack. If you get a 4-on-1, you better score and Chandler Stephenson did.

Later in the first, Michal Kempny fired a cross-ice pass to Jakub Vrana who was left wide-open with all five Sabres players watching the puck. No one accounted for Vrana on the far post.

There were turnovers, defensive break downs, bad line changes, you name it. This was just a horribly sloppy game for Buffalo.

That’s not to say the Caps did not play well. The Caps were good and the Sabres were bad. Both things can be true. You have to be able to make opponents pay for their mistakes and Washington did just that.

Wilson’s knockout punch

No, not literally.

The Caps held a 4-0 lead after the first period and the game looked well in hand. Midway through the second, Henri Jokiharju fired a shot that hit off the back of Jonas Siegenthaler, bounced up, landed behind Holtby and trickled into the net. That made the next goal critical.

A goal for Washington would restore the daunting four-goal lead. A goal for Buffalo, however, would have pulled them within two with plenty of time left to go in the game. There’s no guarantee the Sabres could have finished, but a two-goal game does not seem nearly as out of reach as a four-goal game. Luckily Tom Wilson put an end to any hopes of a comeback as he deflected in a shot from Michal Kempny to make it 5-1.

Buffalo allowed four goals in the first period and only one in the second, but that was the one that really ended all doubt.

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4 things to know for Capitals-Lightning: A battle of top offenses

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4 things to know for Capitals-Lightning: A battle of top offenses

Coming off a big win on Wednesday against the Boston Bruins, the Capitals (23-5-5) will look to stay in the win column as they visit the Tampa Bay Lightning (16-11-3). Tune in to NBC Sports Washington for pregame coverage with Caps FaceOff Live kicking things off at 6 p.m. followed by Caps Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. bringing you up to the 7 p.m. puck drop. Be sure to stick with NBC Sports Washington after the game for all your postgame coverage with Caps Postgame Live and Caps Overtime Live.

Here’s what you need to know for Saturday’s game.

Samsonov gets the start

When you are coming off a big win over the second-best team in the NHL, it's not a surprise to see the Caps stick with the same lines at Saturday's morning skate.

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin - Lars Eller - Richard Panik
Brendan Leipsic - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Nick Jensen
Jonas Siegenthaler - Radko Gudas

The one surprise is that Ilya Samsonov will start for Washington against a very potent Tampa Bay offense.

One thing to note, since it is the dad's trip it is traditional for every player to get into the lineup for one of the two games. It was expected that Samsonov would start Monday in Columbus, but it looks like that will now go to Braden Holtby. You should also expect to see Travis Boyd on Monday as well.

When last we met

The Caps and Lightning last met on Nov. 29 in a thrilling game that saw Washington rally from a 3-1 deficit with two goals in the third period before winning in overtime. Ovechkin tied the game with a shot from the office on the power play and Dmitry Orlov would go on to record the overtime winner.

As a refresher, you can check out the recap from this game here.

These are two teams that know how to score

Tampa Bay is not obliterating the NHL like it was last year and people are scratching their heads wondering how a team this talented isn’t even currently sitting in a wildcard spot in the standings. One aspect of their game you can’t blame for their struggles this season is the offense as the Lightning rank second in the NHL with 3.57 goals per game. Washington sits just behind them at No. 3 with 3.55.

This year, Tampa Bay’s offense is much more spread out. Nikita Kucherov leads the team with 33 points, tied for 15th in the NHL. That’s a far cry from the 128 points he put up lace season. Behind him there are six Lightning players with over 20 points. Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman and Brayden Point should come as no surprise. The other two, however, are Alex Killorn and Kevin Shattenkirk.

The power play has also been hot for both teams. Tampa Bay is second in the NHL with a 29.6 power play percentage while the Caps are fifth at 24.0.

The Caps hold the advantage on defense

Braden Holtby and Andrei Vasilevskiy’s numbers are remarkably similar this season. Holtby has a .911 save percentage and 2.80 GAA while Vasilevskiy has managed a .910 save percentage and 2.78 GAA.

That’s pretty close until you move on to their records this season. Holtby boasts a 16-3-4 record in 24 starts this season. His 16 wins leads the NHL. Vasilevskiy, meanwhile, is 3-8-1 and that says a lot about how much better Washington is playing defensively.

The Caps defense is currently allowing 2.82 goals per game as compared to Tampa Bay’s 3.17. Likewise while there is not much that separates these two teams on the power play, Washington has the superior penalty kill. With Carl Hagelin back in the lineup, the Caps have climbed all the way to third in the NHL at 85.3-percent. The Lightning’s penalty kill is only at 79.8 percent.

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Capitals service dog Captain wins Sports Dog of the Year

Capitals service dog Captain wins Sports Dog of the Year

As if any other candidate would even come close, Captain was named Sports Dog of the Year on Friday afternoon.

The four-legged phenom has been everywhere this fall, making his presence felt all over the DMV, and his popularity has extended nationwide.

Captain doesn't take days off and is always ready to have some fun.

He was there to maintain the peace during the biggest shopping day of the year and he made sure your Cyber Monday gifts arrived on time. 

He inspires greatness and has been a driving force behind the Mystics' WNBA Title as well as the Nationals' World Series victory.

He knows when its time to put in the work as well. He's always on time for meetings, and he has never missed a practice.

He's preparing to assist a Veteran or First Responder one day, and he's already making progress.

And he's always ready to celebrate.

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