Capitals' Playoff Prospects Decrease With Loss To Sabres
By Stephen London
The Washington Capitals shut down against the visiting Buffalo Sabres during the March 27 battle for eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
Not only did the Sabres completely dominate the Capitals, but at points, Buffalo fans dominated Washington fans in a vocal battle. Even though the vocal battle between fans did not start until the second period, it was easy to notice a large Sabres contingent in the crowd before Washington's 5-1 loss got underway.
Losing to Buffalo certainly doesn't help the Capitals' playoff hopes. With only five games left, the Capitals have little time to get back into the top eight.
Washington forwards showed some signs of life in the first two periods, but nothing comparative to what the Sabres were producing on the offensive end. Jeff Schultz was on the ice with John Carlson as his defensive partner on the Washington defense when the Sabres scored two goals during the first period.
Drew Stafford of the Sabres was able to walk right in toward the net for a shot because Schultz went into the same corner as Carlson. If a defenseman is in a corner, the other defenseman should be right in front of the net with his head on a swivel. Schultz has been a defensive weak point at times, for his hesitation to use his huge body in addition to his stick work.
Carlson, who rarely plays with Schultz, is one of the Caps' defensemen that overcommits every now and then. When Schultz and Carlson are with different partners, their errors can be minimized, but pairing them together created defensive misreads over and over.
The first two goals were scored while that defensive pairing was on the ice. There was a change to start the second period. Schultz played little more than five minutes during the game, but had already made his impact on the game with a minus two in plus/minus.
This game followed a season-long pattern; the Capitals got outscored during the first two periods. The Capitals' opponents have outscored them, 66-53, during the first period of their games this season. During the second period, the Capitals' opponents have an 80-66 scoring advantage.
With the Capitals down two goals going into the second period, they were still trying to fight their way back, but Thomas Vanek of the Sabres got the second period rolling with a goal two minutes and 31 seconds into the period. After this goal, coach Dale Hunter took Braden Holtby out of the net and replaced him with Michal Neuvirth.
The Capitals were able to put their only goal of the game up on the board during the second period. It came off the stick of Alexander Semin right off a faceoff in the offensive zone. The next goal that was scored was the dagger.
The Capitals had their second power play of the night, and Alex Ovechkin was on the point, playing the part of a defenseman as he normally does on the power play. But this time, Ovi's defensive skills really showed when Jason Pominville of the Sabres poke checked the puck by him and was able to get a two on one going the other way while the Sabres were shorthanded.
Pominville faked a pass, causing All-Star defenseman Dennis Wideman to slide on the ice in an attempt to prevent the pass. After Pominville saw the pass wasn't there, he threw it top shelf, short side for the goal and a commanding 4-1 lead.
Finishing with 45 shots on net, the Capitals put only one past the Sabres' goaltender, Ryan Miller. The shot totals during this game -- Washington had 45, while Buffalo had 31 -- are not indicative of how the game went. Hard passes from the point to the forwards screening the goaltender inflated the Capitals' third-period shot total to 19.
The Capitals can still make a final push for a playoff spot. They are two points behind the Sabres, who now occupy eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings, and five points behind the Panthers, who are currently first in the Southeast Division standings.
Posted March 28, 2012