Caps Aim for Stinginess vs. Sabres

Posted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel

Tonight’s Caps-Sabres tilt features two teams that were strong early in the season but that have struggled to find consistency for the last couple of months. Both teams are south of the proverbial Mason-Dixon line as the game gets underway, but the two clubs are separated by a single standings point, making this a four-point game as the midway mark of the season draws near. Washington became just the 10th team in NHL history to win each of its first seven games of the season, but the Caps have been a mediocre 11-15-2 since. The Caps have been unable to put together more than two straight wins since starting the season with seven straight, and Washington replaced head coach Bruce Boudreau near the end of November. Since Dale Hunter took over behind the Washington bench, the Caps are 6-6-1 in 13 games, but they’ve been better in their own end, especially at even-strength. “I think our defensive play in the games in much better than it was before,” says veteran Caps blueliner Roman Hamrlik. “We are more focusing on playing better defense, getting all five guys back in the neutral zone and in the defensive zone. That’s what we try to do, play good defense and that’s going to great some great offense. “We still have lots of work to do. We’re doing a better job in front of our net not to give too many second rebounds and I think that’s the biggest difference right now. The Capitals have allowed 2.46 goals per game since Hunter took over, a figure that would place them ninth in the league at the moment if it had been maintained over the entirety of the season to date. Washington has been even stingier at even-strength, allowing just 25 markers in 13 games when the sides are all even. “Coming in here [Hunter] wanted to shore up our d-zone and tighten it up a little bit,” says Caps defenseman Dennis Wideman. “We’re still having some breakdowns and guys are still really getting used to it. But we were giving up way too many 5-on-5 goals and way too many chances and I think that’s one thing he wanted to change when he got here.” Of the 10 coaches who started an NHL season with at least seven consecutive wins, Boudreau is the one who coached the fewest games with that team after the conclusion of the winning streak (15). Boudreau dislodged Pittsburgh coach Bob Berry from the top spot on that list; Berry coached just 73 more games after his 1986-87 Penguins opened the season with seven straight wins. Those ’86-87 Pens finished at 30-38-12, meaning Berry’s boys went 23-38-12 after their swift start. Nashville’s Barry Trotz is on the other end of that spectrum; he has coached the Predators for more than 500 games (and counting) since his team started the 2005-06 season with eight victories in a row. Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff is third on that list; he has coached more than 400 games since he led his charges to 10 straight wins out of the gate in 2006-07, matching the NHL record set by the 1993-94 Toronto Maple Leafs. The longest tenured coach in the NHL, Ruff is in his 14th season behind the Sabres’ bench. Like the Capitals, the Sabres got off to a strong start in 2011-12. Buffalo won five of its first six games and the Sabres were sitting at 10-5 after a thorough 5-1 win over Northeast Division rival Ottawa on Nov. 11. That win over the Senators was Buffalo’s fourth in succession, but in the seven weeks since the Sabres have not been able to earn consecutive victories. Buffalo is 4-7-2 in its last 13 games, but two of those wins came at Washington’s expense. “They’re a fast-starting team.” says Wideman of the Sabres. “They come at you really hard with a lot of speed. I think they do a great job of their [defense] sucking our forwards back in the neutral zone and then hitting their forwards with a ton of speed. It makes it difficult to get clean breakouts, because they’re beating us to pucks or they’re pushing us off the line. “I think we have to do a better job of slowing them up through the neutral zone and making them make longer dumps, with a little less speed maybe, and then break the puck out a little cleaner.”

next up:

Vokoun Gets Back-to-Back Nod

January 14, 2013

Dale Hunter’s record as the Washington bench boss nudged above what passes for .500 in the modern NHL for the first time with Friday night’s win over the Sabres. Hunter is now 7-6-1 since taking over the reins of the Capitals on Nov. 28. Quietly, the Caps have put together a 6-3-1 run in their last

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