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Capitals shut down Sabres, hang on to lead and win, 4-2

By Katie Carrera

If you haven't already, head on over to the game story for Thursday's hard-copy edition to read about the lead that didn't get away from the Capitals. After watching sizable advantages vanish in each of the past three games, the Capitals were pleased to show that when they all buy in and play a simple game they can shut teams down and prevent a lead from escaping.

At the center of this success with a methodical dump-and-chase style of game was the new line of Jason Chimera, David Steckel and Matt Bradley. In a game that featured entirely new combinations among the forwards, it's hard to know if anyone would have picked the line of checkers to excel so effortlessly.

They've never all played together on a single line but their affinity for the same style of game -- dump the puck in, create a strong forecheck to recover it, muscle shots off and repeat -- made it easy.

"I think we just kept it simple," said Chimera, whose pair of assists were nice set-ups for both of his linemates from behind the net. "Our two goals were the direct result of getting pucks deep and getting the forecheck going. Me, Brads and Stecks work well together down low. We kind of seem to swarm guys to keep them in their own zone and we did a good job of that. It's nice to be rewarded for your hard work at times."

Bradley's goal found its way through Ryan Miller's pads and trickled over the goal line to make it 2-0 by the end of the first. Steckel's one-timer hit the right post, the left then Miller's skate en route to the back of the cage for a 3-0 Caps edge. It marked Chimera's first multi-point game of the season and Bradley's first since Jan. 7, 2010 against Ottawa. All told, they combined for five points and two goals including the game-winner.

The chances they created on nearly every shift seemed to set a tone for the rest of the team and before long, all of the Capitals were looking to seize opportunities off the forecheck and play a simple game.

"Chimmer got in there and made some great plays and Brads," Steckel said of the instant-chemistry with the line. "I just kind of mucked it up and we were in the right spots. If you do the right stuff and you are working hard, it's easy to play together."

Some other notes and observations from the Caps' win over Buffalo:

--Alexander Semin's pass to Nicklas Backstrom for that easy power play goal that caught Miller going from his right to left looked like the perfect incarnation of that play. It's something that can be so routine for the Capitals that there's little emotion involved in a goal like that. (Check out the replay.)

With two points tonight, Semin extended his point streak to nine games and it now stands at 17 points (nine goals). Meanwhile, Backstrom has 15 points in the past nine games after recording six in his first eight games.

This is also the third straight game in which the Capitals have scored the first goal, but it's probably the first one of those contests where they've followed it up with a largely even performance the rest of the way.

--Michal Neuvirth's trend of playing well in the third period continued against Buffalo. He didn't face many shots in the third period (2) until the Sabres' power play when he made five key stops.

--Marcus Johansson was the Capitals' best faceoff man against the Sabres. The rookie won 10 of 15 draws and it appears he's making progress from that slow start in the circle. I'll have more on how he played with Alex Ovechkin and Boudreau's reasoning for all of the early line changes in the morning.

By Katie Carrera  | November 17, 2010; 10:56 PM ET
Categories:  Alexander Semin, Buffalo Sabres, David Steckel, Jason Chimera, Matt Bradley, Nicklas Backstrom  
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Next: Bruce Boudreau and the Capitals' search for lines that 'click'

Comments

To all the negative people who wishes we had a better GM, coach, and players:
We have the best team in the league, period. Will we be there forever? NO. But we don't live forever and most of us like to enjoy the NOW.

Posted by: hock1 | November 18, 2010 12:39 AM | Report abuse

To all the negative people who wishes we had a better GM, coach, and players:
We have the best team in the league, period. Will we be there forever? NO. But we don't live forever and most of us like to enjoy the NOW.
_________________________________________

Really? I thought the best team in the league is the one that hoists the Cup in June?

Is it really so hard for Koolaid drinkers to understand why some fans express concerns about this team? I am highly entertained watching this offensive juggernaut play 82 games a season. But the reality is this team has had the same coach, GM, and practically the same players for 4 years (I'll cut GMGM some slack pre-Ovi since Ted took the fall) and has only made it out the the first round once. Meanwhile, teams that started their rebuilds around the same time have won the Cup.

If this were a Pens or Blackhawks board, I would agree with you. Their whining is just greed. But asking Caps fans to overlook 35 years of playoff failures because this team is at the top of the standings in November is ridiculous. Remember, this is the same team that won the Presidents' Trophy by a wide margin last year only to suffer the greatest upset in NHL history in April.

Posted by: ablake70 | November 18, 2010 1:36 AM | Report abuse

@hock1

We had the best team in the league last year too. Got us a quick exit from the playoffs. For me personally it isnt a matter of better GM,better coach,or better players. It is a matter of adjusting to different styles of game when its absolutely needed. We have a great young exciting team that can fly on the open ice and create chances. Those change late in the season and in the playoffs. If you look at the teams that win cups you will see they play a different style when it is needed. We dont get dirty, we dont grind, we dont dump it in. Those are the major concerns with this team to reach the next stage. If all you want is the team to do great in the regular season and set scoring records and have 9 guys scoring 20 goals, then awesome. You will probably have it again. The majority of us love seeing that too but realize that in the playoffs all that means squat. Its about defense and goal tending. (Or playing that crap trap system that needs to be illegal)

Posted by: Killerangel81 | November 18, 2010 1:44 AM | Report abuse

That was a pretty solid win for the Caps. Chimera's passing was just awesome -- what a terrific effort from that line tonight. It was great to see Steckel have a good game, and if a line is able to keep the puck so deep, and Chimera therefore able to deliver those pucks from behind goal so deftly, off the front of the crease is a comfortable place for Steckel to put himself. Nice.

Johansson's gonna be great. Nice gamem great faceoff work too.

And I like this Semin-Backstrom connection. A thing of beauty.

This is probably not a long-term arrangement, but there are some things to recommend these line combinations. Flash's absence is a start.

Posted by: Justafan | November 18, 2010 4:56 AM | Report abuse

BB stop putting OVi in on empty net situations. He is one of the worst defensive players on the team. I know he wants to pad the stats. Semin and Backstrom yes because they actually know how to play defense. Also OVI does not look as good in the past three games. I wonder if he is hurt. On another note the grinders and the defensemen are winning games for the Caps. That is a good thing. Not to mention clutch goaltending. Semin looks like a much better player than OVi almost all year.

Posted by: pkme | November 18, 2010 6:58 AM | Report abuse

@pkme

I thought Ovie looked more physical last night which is usually a sign he is on the verge of rebounding.

BB actually called out the refs a bit in his postgame...and rightfully so I think.

They missed a blatant trip on Laich in which they then scored, and then they missed the call on Ovie...it emboldened the sabres and all BB said was that the refs were calling the score and not the game...gotta agree!

Posted by: capscoach | November 18, 2010 7:54 AM | Report abuse

The Caps are certainly playing well on offense again this year -- 1st in scoring at this point. But they're still suspect on D. I think part of the problem is that they take too many penalties. I just ran a quick tally, and they've had to kill off 80 penalties, while they've been on the Power Play 66 times so far. While it's great that their PK is above average this year (12th in the league), it's not a good trend.

Posted by: brownknows | November 18, 2010 8:02 AM | Report abuse

I was very critical of BB at the start of the season, but he has the Caps playing a better system for the playoffs. They are forechecking well, lessening the stretch passes (forced ones), and backchecking -- even OV. I have seen less forward floating and more backchecking. The Caps are out-hitting teams. BB installed a new system and has his players mostly on board. He has lessened the time of lines that are not playing the system or breaking up lines that freestyle. He has increased the time for the 3rd and 4th lines while juggling those lines because they are playing his revamped system. Color me happier than the beginning of the year.

Posted by: JIMALLCAPS2 | November 18, 2010 8:25 AM | Report abuse

@hock1:

I agree with a lot of what you're saying. Especially the part about enjoying the Caps now. The Caps are one of the best teams in the league and when you live in a town that has teams like the Redskins and Wizards that's a good thing. I see adjustments in their game which I think will prepare them for more success in the playoffs. But, until that happens we'll have to be satisfied to enjoy the now.

OBTW I am one of the people who would like to see an additional D man. Sloan seems like a real nice guy, but the Caps need an upgrade there. BTW, I like the way Alzner and Carlson are progressing. Again we'll have to see if they're good enough and have gained enough experience come playoff time.

I guess I look forward more than I do backward. This year's playoffs is a lot more important to me than last year's playoffs with the exception of lessons learned.

Posted by: BetterOffWithFedorov | November 18, 2010 8:35 AM | Report abuse

@JIMALLCAPS

I agree...and I think things are going to get better by the playoffs...the team is playing a better style game, but they still make a lot of mistakes (naturally as they are adjusting) I think as they get used to it, they will be even more responsible and have less turnovers and mistakes.

Posted by: capscoach | November 18, 2010 8:37 AM | Report abuse

I think their defense is a heck of lot better. Look at their goals against. the reason Caps are winning games is because of their defense. They are doing everything.

Posted by: pkme | November 18, 2010 8:43 AM | Report abuse

And MaJo looked pretty good on the top line last night. The one troubling stat for the Caps is giveaways versus takeaways; they could improve there.

Posted by: JIMALLCAPS2 | November 18, 2010 8:52 AM | Report abuse

Defensively, I thought the #1 and #2 paings looked pretty weak in our zone; if not for some stellar saves by Neuvy, Green/Shultz and Alzner/Carlson would have been scored against on quite a few occasions....if Erskine (only 12 minutes???) and his partner played that lax people here would be screaming for their benchings and how we need to "upgrade" their spots....another clean/gentlemanly game devoid of emotion and passion won by the Caps

Posted by: vermontcaps | November 18, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse

Really? I thought the best team in the league is the one that hoists the Cup in June?
———————
Ridiculous, and narrow minded way of thinking.
The SC champions is the team that won a tournament of selected teams, it is not always the best team in the league that wins that tournament.
The best team in the league is a top of the standing at any given moment. period.

———————

But asking Caps fans to overlook 35 years of playoff failures because this team is at the top of the standings in November is ridiculous.

————————
Really? Who is asking anything? Apparently, you like to hold grouches and resentments. First of all, every year is a new year. This team has nothing to do with has happened here in the past 35 years - Are any of those players still alive? Quit living in the past. Enjoy today. You are in a town with the best team in the league.

Posted by: hock1 | November 18, 2010 11:40 AM | Report abuse

Re HOCK
Don't waste you precious time reacting some so named real fans. You don't have to be following team so many years to be called fan. In reality one game makes you fan.Peter Bondra made me fan of Capitals. Enjoy you time when yo still have best team in town.

Posted by: dugza | November 18, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

This team is playing a much different style than last years team. Defense is stressed (finally!). As for the makeup of the team, Carlson/Alzner are both a year older and more experienced. Hendricks & Johansson are great additions. Even with bad numbers, DJK is useful in spots for the regular season (he won't get a sniff of the playoffs). I think GMGM will add 1 D and 1 O for a playoff push. So far so good as far as I see!

Posted by: chriscaps | November 18, 2010 11:59 AM | Report abuse

I'm of the mind that there will always be haters until Washington goes 82-0 and Pittsburgh AND Philadelphia go 0-82. Until that happens, people will gripe for any number of reasons ranging from Ovie's affinity for Big Macs to the beer temperature at Verizon Center. I also think there's so many intangibles that make up a Stanley Cup Championship team, from injuries, to acquisitions, to the inevitable lucky bounce and bad call that there's no point in bringing it up at this stage of the game. So yeah, we have the #1 team in the NHL for now, and we can only hope they get better along the way.

Posted by: sandyflee | November 18, 2010 12:09 PM | Report abuse

@hock 1

Aren't you the same poster who regularly called BB an idiot because he wouldn't put SOB together? Something about him being too stupid to understand European style hockey? Funny how things change.

You don't seem to understand how sports work. Ask any player, in any sport, in any league which team is the best that year, and they will all point to the team that won the championship. Do you think Caps players will claim they were the best team last year when the flamed out in the playoffs? No. Do you think the Blackhawks are wearing "Stay Angry" tee-shirts because they didn't win the President's Trophy? No.

The fact is this THIS team has been together for 4 years and is loaded with 1st rounders (as GMGM likes to remind us) including one of the best players in the world and one of the top centers. It is time to produce in the playoffs.

Posted by: ablake70 | November 18, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse

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