The Capitals Just Keep On Winning

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Posted December 28, 2015

Braden Holtby (Caps Outsider)

The Caps skated to a 2-0 victory over the Sabres in Buffalo, their eighth win in a row. Both Alex Ovechkin and Jay Beagle found the soft spot in the Buffalo defense. Turns out, it’s right in front of the net. Each scored their respective goals from essentially the same spot.

Ovechkin’s opening tally resulted from a superb fore-check by T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom. Backstrom ultimately won the puck and delivered a dynamite no-look pass to the wide-open captain who was parked in front of the net. The first line as a whole dominated once again tonight.

Beagle scored his sixth goal of the campaign when the lively First Niagara Center boards redirected a Tom Wilson shot straight to him in front of the net. The sprawling Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark was unable to cover the puck, giving the unguarded Beagle the opening to tuck it into the practically vacated net.

Both skaters capitalized from being in the right place at the right time.

The third line center is arguably playing the best hockey of his career. Beagle has three points and two goals in the last three games. He was the first star of the game at Carolina and versus Montreal, and the third star of the game tonight.

Not to mention, it’s always a good sign when Beagle scores. The Caps are 22-0-5 when he finds the back of the net.

Now you could say that tonight’s shutout was merely a perfect storm of Buffalo’s bottom-five rank in goals per game (2.33) and Washington’s top rank in goals allowed per game (2.06). But we absolutely need to talk about tonight’s first star of the game.

Braden Holtby was once again outstanding tonight. Did you see that save on Evander Kane in the final minute? If not, check it out below. If you did, then watch it again.

Holtby pitched his second shutout of the season, as he stopped all 31 shots sent his way. He is consistently tranquil and composed when he’s between the pipes. As Hockey Hall of Famer Scott Stevens said on NHL Tonight following the game, “He’s just smooth. He’s under control and efficient…this has been going on for a long time now, and I just love the way he plays. So cool, compact, smooth, and athletic.”

Is it time for the Vezina Trophy discussion to open up? Possibly. Holtby certainly sports the numbers for the award. He leads all goalies in wins at 23 and goals against average (GAA) at 1.86. His .935 save percentage (SVPCT) is second only to none other than Michael Neuvirth.

In comparison, last season’s Vezina Trophy winner, Carey Price, finished with 44 wins, a 1.96 GAA, and a .933 SVPCT. However, Holtby and the Caps still have 47 games remaining.

Individual stats aside, the team continued playing some of its best hockey ever. The Caps didn’t miss a beat with John Carlson out for the first time since 2010. Holtby received excellent support from his defense and penalty killers. A lack of a sustained offensive attack and scoring opportunities noticeably frustrated the Sabres and their fans.

Credit to Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner, who each ate up over 26 minutes of time on ice tonight. That might even surpass what Ryan McDonagh averages in the playoffs.

The Caps will return home to host the Sabres at Verizon Center on Wednesday before leaving town once again for a five-game road trip. The true tests come in the latter half of the voyage, with stops in Boston, Brooklyn, and Manhattan. Nonetheless, we know the Caps, who are 13-3-1 on the road and on an eight-game win streak, are up to the challenge.