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.
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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