The Capitals led the Sabres from start to finish. Brooks Laich put the Capitals up 1-0 at just 1:57 into the first period with a power play goal assisted by Nicklass Backstrom and Victor Kozlov. The goal was Laich's 11th of the season and 6th in the last nine games. Where did he score from - need you ask - the doorstep - "if you want money go to the bank, if you want goals go to the net."
If Laich put the Caps up early, Jose Theodore made sure they stayed there for the rest of the game. Theodore kept Sabres off the board until the 7:41 mark of the third period when Mike Green missed an assignment and failed to recover fast enough. On the play the Sabres Paul Gausted and Adam Mair made the Caps pay for Green's misstep when Gausted dished a perfect pass to a perfectly positioned Mair for Mair's 5th goal of the season. However by that juncture the Sabres were down 3-1 as Chris Bourque had scored the first goal of his NHL career, an even strength tally, at 9:02 of the first period; and Nicklas Backstrom had netted his 11th goal of the season on a power play at 12:11 of the second period.
After Mair's goal, the Caps responded by sending the high energy Bourque-Steckel-Fehr line out and they controlled the play and kept things down in Buffalo's end the entire next shift to stifle any momentum Buffalo might have otherwise been able to derive from the late score. At about the 18:35 mark, Sabres coach Lindsey Rupp pulled Goalie Ryan Miller in favor of a sixth skater; the Sabres got some action going and Shaone Morrisonn was called for hooking at the 18:53 mark. The Morrisonn penalty gave the Sabres a 6 - on 4 situation and brought everyone watching the the edge of their seats. However, at 19:17, Caps center Boyd Gordon got the puck, took it up to just about the Caps own blueline and threw it into the empty net to put the Caps up 4-1. The Sabres weren't done for the night though as they still had a man advantage. Sabres coach Lindy Ruff put their second power play unit out on the ice and hard working left wing Clarke MacArthur got a power play goal past Theodore at 19:49. Jose Theodore had another good night in goal stopping 31 of 33 shots (0.939 save percentage) including all the shots he should have stopped and some where he robbed Buffalo. Basically, there was little he could do on the two goals that got by him, on the first he was basically left "naked" and on the second the Sabres' second power play unit was swarming and moved the puck very well to setup MacArthur.
Last night's win meant the Capitals finished the year 2008 with:
i) an overall record of 24-11-3 and 51 points,
ii) leading the Southeast Division by 11 points and in sole possession second place in the Eastern Conference,
iii) the month of December with an 11-3 record after finishing the months of November and October with records of 8-5-2 and 5-3-1 respectively, despite battling injuries to key players virtually all of November and December and having played lengthy west coast road trips in both October and November,
and iv) are now 9-1-0 in their last 10 games played.
Through all the adversity they have been facing - injuries to key players, etc., the Caps just keep getting better.
At the end of November they were on track for a 103-105 point season, today they are on tack for a 110 point season. Perhaps most significant, at the end of November their away record was a "challenged" 4-8-2 (0.357 hockey); at the end of December the Capitals away record is an "improving" 9-10-2 (0.476 hockey) overall and 4-2-0 in December (0.667 hockey). While not nearly as good as the Capitals home records (15-1-1 overall and 6-1-0 in December) 0.600+ hockey will position the Caps to capture at least 24 of the 40 available road points between now and the end of the season. Consider that of the 20 remaining games only one is against a Western Conference team and that's the Predators in Nashville on March 10th; and of the 20 remaining away games on the Caps schedule only extended stint of consecutive road games is a five consecutive game streak between March 16th through the 24th and only two of those games are on consecutive nights - Atlanta on the 16th and Florida on the 17th of March, and there is reason to start believing the Caps could finish with at least 105 points.
Next up - the Tampa Bay Lightning, Thursday Night at Verizon Center.
LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!