Caps 5, Sabres 3: Five Observations

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Loose Pucks,Sports,Brian McNally

1. A must-get for the Caps, who held off a late charge by Buffalo for a critical win on Sunday night. They are now tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning (11-15-1, 25 points) for 12th place in the conference. Washington is seven points behind the Southeast Division-leading Winnipeg Jets with one less game played. It also faces the Jets in consecutive road games on Thursday and Friday of this week. That’s a huge opportunity. They Caps pulled to within six points of No. 8 seed Carolina for the final playoff spot with 20 games left. It’s a long shot – but at least there’s some hope here.

“Twenty games. I saw right away Winnipeg was losing [Sunday] and gave us that little plus I think,” forward Alex Ovechkin said. “It’s kind of situation where you look at yourself and you look at different team in division so it’s kind of situation where you have to do everything we can game by game.”

2. But that’s later in the week and there’s a game at Pittsburgh first on Tuesday – no easy task. Would be nice for the Caps if forward Jason Chimera could build off his first goal of the season Sunday. It’s been a well-documented tough stretch to start 2013 for Chimera, who scored a career-best 20 goals last season and had four more in the playoffs. This year? Nada. Until tonight.

Troy Brouwer hit Chimera with a sweet pass from behind the net and he slid the puck between Ryan Miller’s pads. His teammates have shied away from giving too hard a time about his goal drought. After all, it had stretched to 27 games. Plus, Chimera’s got a bit of a temper. No need to poke the bear.

But that doesn’t mean he got away scot free. An unnamed teammate put a version of Jobu in his locker this week – watch the movie Major League if you don’t get that reference – and lit some incense for him. But the bench exploded when he finally scored. Mike Ribeiro made a show of going to get the puck like NHLers do when a guy scores the first goal of his career. Ovechkin joked that it looked like Chimera had forgot how to celebrate.

“You don’t want to mess with a guy like that too, too much,” Brouwer said. “At first we did and then we kind of backed off because everyone’s been in a drought. You know it can wear on you and when guys are picking at you a little bit it can make it worse. So we just tried to lay off him, tried to give him every opportunity we could to let him score and he finally got rewarded.”

Added Adam Oates, who had a pregame chat with Chimera before the Buffalo game:  “Maybe it’s a little bit harder at the beginning of the year because he had success last year. You know, the game’s not that easy. Maybe he thought that it’s just gonna continue that way. And we all got off to a lousy start. It was just good to see that he’s turned it around. For me, like I said all along, production doesn’t matter. He needs to play good hockey and he’s doing that.”

Chimera, 33 had never gone this long in his NHL career without a goal. He debuted on Dec. 9, 2000. There were streaks of 21 games, 22 games, 23 games (2010-11 with the Caps) and 25 games. But 27 was starting to get ridiculous given the chances Chimera has had this season.

“It was great to see. I went 30 games without scoring a few years ago and the thing is, if you do that in the middle of the season nobody really sees it,” Ribeiro said. “But when you start the season and you don’t have a goal? I went 16 games one year at the start of the season without a goal and it’s a lot more pressure.”

3. The Caps weren’t all that happy with Buffalo forward Steve Ott, a player who has made a career out of antagonizing others. It’s how he rolls. He allegedly asked Washington defenseman Steve Oleksy to drop the gloves in the third period. And then he tried to skate away as Oleksy threw a punch. It worked. Oleksy went to the box for roughing and Buffalo had a chance to tie the game.

“In that situation, at this level, the guys are too strong and throw too hard,” Oleksy said. “If he does drop his gloves and comes through with one, you know, it only takes one at this level, and it could be dangerous. If he gets a quick start on me, it could be a tough situation.”

Ribeiro knows how Ott operates better than anyone. He played with him for six years with the Dallas Stars.

“He’s a guy that you hate to play against but you love to have on your team,” Ribeiro said. “He was able to get them the power play there at the end. Obviously, guys like that will get a penalty like he had at the end. So it goes both ways.”

4. Speaking of ridiculous: Washington’s blueline is really struggling with injuries now. Defenseman Tom Poti earlier had a neck injury this season and now a back injury has recurred after he took a hit from Ott on Sunday. The Caps once again had to finish a game with five defenseman – a less-than-ideal scenario.

No word on the extent of Poti’s injury. It is good news that Jack Hillen returned from a shoulder injury over the weekend. And that Mike Green (groin) is at least traveling with the club to Pittsburgh and then Winnipeg later this week. But John Erskine (upper body injury) remains out. Tomas Kundratek (lower-body injury) missed the Boston game Saturday and didn’t play Sunday against the Sabres. There’s hope he isn’t far off from a return after an MRI showed no serious damage. But for now Oates is forced to mix and match whoever is healthy.

5. Caps goalie Braden Holtby might one day score a goal. He’s certainly got the puckhandling skills for it. And he once hit the post in a game with Hershey. But an attempt Sunday against Buffalo didn’t come all that close. Maybe down the road if the situation arises.

“You see a lot of the goalies when I was growing up – it was the thing to do,” Holtby said. “They’re scoring goals. It’d be something that I would like to do some day, but I don’t ever want to put the team in jeopardy by trying it.”

Follow me on Twitter @bmcnally14

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Brian McNally

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner