It didn't always look great. It wasn't a masterpiece by any stretch. And it certainly wasn't what was expected at this point in the season. But the drought is finally over, the Caps finally got their first win in five tries this season.
Of course I'm deliriously happy. I'm literally jumping up and down. But I'm keeping it inside. Goodbye goose egg from the win column, hello reality. Because there's still work to do, and lots of it.
I will of course begin with the good. Let's get the obvious one out of the way, that being who authored the game winner. Actually it's the who and how that is giving us Caps fans some hope. El Capitano himself, Alex Ovechkin looked like the Great Eight of old with a blast from the left point (that's right the left point) on the power play. Shame though that it took him five games to get on the board. Now that the tinkering appears to be over, he should be able to get back to doing what he does best--driving to the net, creating chances and getting his customary 4-8 shots a game, right? Right? Left?
Speaking of shot totals, the Caps got good results and finished the game with 30 shots on net. Good things happen when you get the puck to the net. Have I said this before? If I haven't I know someone else has. At least 4,000 times.
It was a much better overall effort by the team, the beginnings of which we saw in the previous game against New Jersey. Much better effort overall especially on the forecheck and puck pursuit. And though the defensive side had a shaky start, giving up 24 shots through three periods is far better.
Joel Ward continues a comeback season of sorts, getting his third goal of the season. Comeback? No, not really because he never really went anywhere. That's right, I'm looking in your direction those of you that wrote him off because he spent most of his time on the fourth line last season. With haughty derision, I might add. As Mike Vogel said during the radio broadcast, put him in the hands of a coach that knows how to use him effectively, and he will produce. He proved that in the playoffs. He's proving it now. Oh yeah, by the way, he added an assist making him one of three Caps finishing with a multi-point total for the game. The others were.....
Mike Ribiero who is also continuing what hopefully is a trend that lasts all season and beyond--at least one point in every game he's played. Against the Sabres today, he began the play that led to both the first and third goals. Conveniently, he also went 7 for 11 in faceoffs. Let us also not forget the third multi-pointer in Jason Chimera who earned his first two points of the season with his usual brand of panther-like speed and strong play along the boards. Together, these three have easily proven to be the best line combination Coach Oates has put together so far. More of that, please.
Mike Green = minute muncher. Upwards of 28 on the ice for this game. On top of that, he was double-shifted by defensive Coach Calle Johansson at the end. Too early to call him Iron Mike, but great to see nonetheless.
Great not to see was Marcus Johansson on the ice. Whether this proves to be a message sent due his all-too-familiar ineffectiveness or a permanent thing, you can't argue with the result. Not as much so for Tom Poti, though. But he may get another look as the season wears on. Call him a decent insurance policy for the playoff run.
Finally, cheers to a 22-save effort by Michal Neuvirth, who has by now earned the title of hot goalie and will therefore be the go-to guy for the foreseeable future. But fear not, Braden Holtby fans, as a 48-game season is still long enough to wear out one goalie and so he will be sure to get another look later on. Neuvirth in the meantime, continues to make the game-preserving efforts. His penultimate save came on a point-blank chance from Sabres rookie Mikhail Grigorenko in the third period.
Now for the bad...it was yet another rocky start for the whole team, especially on the defensive side of the puck. Yet again they left the ice after the first period giving up a double-digit shot total. John Erskine contributed a surprise goal and was a good counter to the Sabres new-found physical game. But John Carlson still looks somewhat lost on the ice and not very confident in either his puckhandling or positioning. Too many times, what should have been a smooth first pass has been a bobble at his own blueline. Karl Alzner, meanwhile seems to have found his groove but must now get used to playing with new partners as the Caps brain trust seems to want to keep things fluid a far as the defensive pairings go. Either way, both Carlson and Alzner will need to get their game going if the Caps are to continue to improve.
The Caps did a much better job staying out of the penalty box this time and killed off both Buffalo power plays. And while it's true that your goalie has to be your best penalty killer, he doesn't have to be your only penalty killer. More than I cared to see, Neuvy had to come up with the big save because the Caps couldn't clear the puck out of their zone. This more than anything has to get better before much longer.
Matthieu Perreault has tried to make a case for himself for a larger role on the team for some time now. But a larger role under Coach Oates means you have responsibilities at both ends of the ice. Perreault appeared to have momentarily forgotten that on the Sabres final goal. Not only did he lose his draw against Marcus Foligno, he covered him poorly enabling Foligno to get around him in his own zone, which led to the goal. That kind of effort gets you a bowl full of pretzels in the press box, Perreault.
Results are all that are going to matter, though, no matter the looks from the old rear-view. And the end result after today's win: out of the Eastern Conference cellar. Out of the Southeast division cellar as well. Now begins what will hopefully be a long climb towards the top of both. Forty-three games to go. Now that you've tasted victory, it's time to keep it going.