shavings sabres

Message To The Boys – With a big 2-1 win over the Wings in Detroit on Tuesday, the Caps clawed their way back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture with just four games remaining in the regular season. Tuesday’s triumph also halted Washington’s losing streak at six games (0-4-2), and as they get set to finish a two-game road trip on Thursday night in Buffalo, the Caps know they’ve got to keep the pedal to the floor here in the season’s final week. Any slip up at this point could prove to be fatal, and the Caps may need to win all four remaining games in order to get into the postseason.

“This time of year is huge,” says Caps’ right wing Tom Wilson. “It’s been a year and a half plus since we’ve been playing these types of games, and I think you’ve got to embrace it. You’ve got to come together as a group, and you’ve got to leave absolutely everything on the line.”

Washington’s roster is somewhat skewed; the Caps have a handful of elder statesmen in their thirties, and they also have a number of younger players still finding and making their way in the League. At and ahead of the March 8 trade deadline, the Caps moved out a trio of regular players – forwards Evgeny Kuznetsov and Anthony Mantha and defenseman Joel Edmundson – who had a combined total of 1,720 games worth of NHL experience at the time they were traded away.

Even with the games they’ve played in filling in for those three departed players, the three players who’ve played the most in those vacated slots – forwards Ivan Miroshnichenko and Mike Sgarbossa and defenseman Alex Alexeyev – have a combined total of 179 games worth of NHL experience.

Given that scenario, it wasn’t surprising to see Wilson huddling on the Washington bench with some of his teammates during the Detroit game on Tuesday, a game in which Washington’s season was hanging in the balance. Wilson knows how hard it is to make the playoffs in this League, and knows that when you’re this close to getting in, you’ve got to do everything possible to seize the opportunity.

As one of the team’s veteran leaders, he took it upon himself to issue some mid-game reminders to some of the younger guys who haven’t faced these late-season high leverage games yet at this level.

“I think the message is, if you look at our game a lot, it’s understanding the situation throughout the game that we’re in,” says Wilson. “There are games where there are three, four, or five shifts where the momentum starts going the other way, and good teams find a way to stop that before it ends up in their own net; they stop the momentum before it’s too late.

“And it’s a fine line between how many young guys just go out there wide-eyed, play their game, and not worry about anything. And sometimes you need to say, ‘Hey, we’ve got to sharpen up here for a couple of shifts and tilt the ice back our way. I think every once in a while, you’ve just got to check in with the bench and the veteran group that’s been here, and you have a feel for those situations, and you can see it coming before some of the younger guys, and you try to get on top of it before it’s too late.

“In that Detroit game specifically, there was a message at one point that was like, ‘Hey, if we keep doing this, they’re going to score a goal, and we’ve got to find a way to be better.’ And in the last five minutes of the second period and after that, we were playing way better hockey.”

Wilson turned 30 a couple weeks ago, but he’s been a leader on this team for years, whether there has been a letter on his sweater or not. And he’s right in the middle of the Caps’ roster mix, still retaining some youthful enthusiasm but also having more than 700 games worth of NHL experience.

“It’s definitely an interesting spot,” notes Wilson. “It’s something I’m learning – as a guy who is kind of right in the middle – is how to manage that gap a little bit. There’s a lot of great kids, and they have some experience. But there is something to be said about an NHL rink like Carolina or Detroit, when the other team is on you and it helps to make one or two plays to really take the steam out of the opponent.

“Even having [T.J. Oshie] back, you still need that experience; maybe it’s one play in the [defensive] zone that gets you out. Things like that – that break the momentum – are important.”

Light My Fire – Tuesday’s game marked the seventh straight contest in which Washington was limited to two or fewer goals scored. In its half century history, Washington has had longer streaks of that kind seven times. The franchise record is nine games with two or fewer goals scored, and that’s occurred four times, most recently from Oct. 13-Nov. 1, 2003. The Caps went 1-7-1 during that ill-fated early season stretch in ‘03-04 that eventually lead to a season-long fire sale of assets.

Goals can be hard to come by at this stage of the season, and the Caps were opportunistic on Tuesday in Detroit, scoring both of their goals – crucially, the first two goals of the game – in a span of 125 seconds late in the second period.

“We had a good stretch there where we were playing real connected, and where we knew exactly what everyone was going to do,” says Caps’ center Connor McMichael. “We were going to cycle and put the puck behind the net, and switch sides with it, and we had guys available. I feel like lately, we are kind of straying away from that a little bit, and we’re getting away from the way we want to play. I think it’s just about getting back to how we were two or three weeks ago, and we’ll be good if we can stick to the game plan.”

Making better shooting decisions and/or getting the shots off a shade quicker could benefit the Caps, who are averaging just 25 shots on net per game since Feb. 10, the second lowest rate in the NHL over that span. In Tuesday’s game with Detroit, the Caps had as many shots blocked (23) as they put on net themselves.

Over the seven-game stretch in which they’ve been limited to two or fewer goals per game, the Caps are averaging 23.1 shots on net per night, 19.8 shots blocked per night, and 13.4 shots that miss the net per night.

Tenderness On The Block – On the other side of that shot-blocking equation, the Caps have been beastly. In its 2-1 win over the Red Wings in Detroit on Tuesday, Washington blocked 26 shots, its fourth highest total of the season. The Wings teed up a total of 84 shots in that game, getting 43 of them on net. Caps skaters combined to block nearly a third of those attempts, using their sticks and bodies to deny some of Detroit’s best looks of the night.

“When we show that we are really engaged in the game and everything, we always show that we are really trying to help each other,” says Caps’ defenseman Martin Fehervary, who threw his arm in front of a Detroit shot in the second period of Tuesday’s game, requiring some subsequent treatment on the bench. “Chucky [Lindgren] has done obviously a really good job, and I think it’s really important to help him as well as we can.

“But we’ve got to play a little bit better than that. We’ve got Buffalo today, the same kind of really quick team. They’ve got a couple of really skilled forwards, so we just have to be sharper in our zone.”

Since Feb. 10, the Caps’ rate of 17.75 blocked shots per 60 minutes is the fourth highest rate in the circuit.

In The Nets – Coming off a masterful 42-save performance in which he narrowly missed notching his sixth shutout of the season on Tuesday in Detroit, Lindgren gets the net again for Washington tonight in Buffalo. According to, Lindgren stopped all nine high danger shots sent his way in Tuesday’s game.

Since Jan. 13, Lindgren ranks second in the NHL with 31 appearances and 802 saves. Over his last 16 appearances, he is 9-5-2 with two shutouts, a 2.62 GAA and a .916 save pct. Lifetime against Buffalo, Lindgren is 2-1-0 with a 3.84 GAA and an .883 save pct. in four appearances (three starts).

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is the likely starter for the Sabres tonight. He leads the Sabres with 26 victories this season, and he has notched 14 of them since the All-Star break. Lifetime against the Capitals, he is 3-0-2 with a 3.07 GAA and a .905 save pct. in five appearances, all starts.

All Lined Up – Here’s how the Caps and Sabres might look when they take the ice on Thursday night in Buffalo:



8-Ovechkin, 17-Strome, 43-Wilson

21-Protas, 24-McMichael, 77-Oshie

67-Pacioretty, 29-Lapierre, 15-Milano

47-Malenstyn, 26-Dowd, 96-Aubé-Kubel


42-Fehervary, 74-Carlson

57-van Riemsdyk, 3-Jensen

27-Alexeyev, 2-Iorio





19-Backstrom (lower body)

25-Bear (NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program)

38-Sandin (upper body)







77-Peterka, 72-Thompson, 89-Tuch

9-Benson, 24-Cozens, 22-Quinn

12-Greenway, 19-Krebs, 53-Skinner

28-Girgensons, 17-Jost, 13-Rousek


25-Power, 26-Dahlin

38-Clague, 10-Jokiharju

78-Bryson, 75-Clifton





4-Byram (personal)

23-Samuelsson (upper body)