Despite a very sluggish start that saw no scoring by either team in the first 35 minutes, the Caps broke their losing skid with a 3-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres with Olympic MVP Ryan Miller minding the crease. The evening opened as Miller recieved a thunderous standing ovation from both Sabres and Caps fans alike, which was apparently cut short by the PA announcer (hey, how about some patriotism here guy?).
But Miller's efforts in stopping 37 shots in his first home appearance since the Olympics were not enough to stop the visitors (after they found their legs in the second and third periods). I think we all got a bit spoiled watching the frenzied pace of some of the Olympic hockey games (especially USA/Canada) so to me, both teams seemed to be skating through jello in the early going.
But once they shook off the rust and got a shot of WD-40, we saw some pretty good defensive hockey from the Capitals and Jose Theodore denied 23 Buffalo shots. The Capitals saw Mike Green, Jason Chimera and Boyd Gordon light the lamp, while Buffalo's lone goal from Jochen Hecht was a result of a Caps' miscue in their defensive zone. The Gordon-Bradley-Steckel line was doing what they do best, grinding it out and getting into puck battles on the boards, with one of those battles resulting in Gordon's empty net goal in the game's final seconds. Unlike the previous three games we saw before the break, the boys didn't make too many defensive gaffes and played one of the more solid games we've seen from them in a long time - beyond important during the playoff stretch!
The Caps return home tonight to face the Tampa Bay Lightning (who have a brand new owner in Jeff Vinik, whose purchase of the club from the clown show that was Oren Koules and Len Barrie was approved yesterday). Capitals fans will get their first glimpse at the new faces that were added at the trade deadline as Scott Walker, Joe Corvo and Eric Berlanger are expected to don the red sweaters tonight against the Bolts. Berlanger and Jason Chimera will have to shake hands and play nice now that they are on the same bench - Chimera was on the recieving end of a nasty hit from Berlanger during a Wild/Blue Jackets game earlier in the season and was taken off the ice on a stretcher. And HM heard from a pal who contributes to the popular Carolina Hurricanes blog Canes Country, who said not to pre-judge by giving creedence to old scuttlebutt regarding Joe Corvo's troubled past as he quickly became a fan favorite in Raleigh and is truly a nice, hard-working guy. And she couldn't say enough great things about Scott Walker - we are looking forward to seeing them both!
And un-related to the Capitals, Hockey Mom wants to give a big "attaboy" shout out to the Panther's David Booth for finally having his day with the Flyer's Mike Richards in Florida's 7-4 shellacking of Philly. The last time Booth and Richards met in October, Booth was taken off the ice on a stretcher after an explosive hit from Richards that knocked him out cold and left him with concussion symptoms that sidelined him for much of this season. Though Booth is not traditionally a fighter, his pent up frustration towards the Flyer's captain's actions reached the boiling point and he decided that last night was the perfect time to settle the score. Not only did he drop the gloves with Richards, he garnered the first Gordie Howe Hat Trick of his career by scoring a goal and adding three assists in the Cat's victory. Here's the fight footage from last night: