The Sabres were able to hang with the redhot Capitals, who have only lost six games all season, outshooting Washington 31 to 26. However, Washington was able to "capitalize" on its opportunities, shutting out the Sabres 2-0. The victory moves the Capitals to 15-1-1 in their last 17 games, and continues their eight game win streak.
The star of the game was Braden Holtby. He made multiple top-notch saves, and none better than a save of the year candidate in the final minutes against Evander Kane.
Holtby robs Kane pic.twitter.com/zb7ElVnZib— Stephanie (@myregularface) December 29, 2015
This is his second shutout of the season, and improves his save percentage to .935. He's likely the Vezina favorite at this point.
Alexander Ovechkin broke the ice 19 seconds into the second period, as the Sabres made the costly mistake of leaving one of the best players in the league all alone in front of the net. Whether that's on Rasmus Ristolainen or Josh Gorges is up for debate. When Ristolainen went to the corner, Gorges did not cover the center of the ice.
Nicolas Deslauriers was forced to answer for a legal hit he made on Justin Williams, which left the veteran forward bloodied and sent him to the locker room. The hit certainly upped the chippiness factor, and Michael Latta finally challenged Deslauriers midway through the second. It was an easy victory for Deslauriers, who only took one or two blows.
All momentum from the victory was lost moments later, as a shot from Tom Wilson bounced off the endboards and right to Jay Beagle up front. He was able to beat the out-of-position Linus Ullmark pretty easily.
The Sabres appeared to score twice, but to no avail. The horn went off in the second period after a Jamie McGinn shot, which was a bit embarrassing for the operator since the puck was on the side of the net. Late in the third Tyler Ennis was able to beat Holtby, but the goal was immediately waived off due to incidental contact. Dan Bylsma challenged, despite not knowing if they could really overturn the initial call. There was a slight chance that the puck went in before Ennis got there, but it was too close to call and only evident on one angle shown on the big screen.
It was another poor showing from the team's powerplay unit, which has now failed to score in its last 17 attempts. The man-up was 0-for-3 tonight, and struggled even getting successful zone entries. Bylsma said that the lack of success led to frustration on the bench.
Ullmark made 24 saves in the losing effort, his first game action since Dec. 15 against New Jersey. His record now moves to 5-8-0.
1. How will Eichel and O'Reilly follow up their big night against Boston?
Eichel made a remarkable stickhandling move up the middle, but ran out of room before he could get a serious scoring chance. O'Reilly made a few passes that could have led to goals. As usual he led forwards in icetime with 24 minutes. Both were a minus one tonight.
2. Can the Sabres deal with Washington's depth?
One of Washington's two goals came from Beagle, the Capitals third line center. The goal is his sixth of the year. Tonight snapped Jason Chimera's three-game goal streak.
3. What will happen to Evander Kane tonight?
As expected, Kane played tonight on his usual line with Eichel and Ennis. He didn't face any boos from the crowd, and played his normal game minus a few minutes in the locker room after catching an Eichel pass to the face. He created some opportunities, and didn't seem phased at all by the recent news. He continued to not hide from the media as well, taking only hockey-specific questions after the game.
"I enjoy being around the rink, around the guys and playing in this league," Kane said. "I don't take that lightly."
Kane had four shots on goal on seven attempts and trailed only Deslauriers with two hits.