LAST GAME & THE "MAGIC MAN"

What, if anything--- you can take from the Washington capitals 4-1 victory over the New York Rangers on Wednesday will probably be determined by the final horn of tomorrow night's contest in Columbus vs. the Blue Jackets.

The Caps looked impressive during the three goal win while cooling off the Eastern Conference’s top team. Having come into the game on a five game winning streak, the Rangers were clicking on all cylinders, as Washington easily put together their best performance since dominating the Detroit Red Wings back on October-22.

However the Capitals have been very inconsistent since starting the season a franchise best 7-0. Looking like Stanley Cup contenders, as they did on Wednesday, the Capitals can also play like a lottery team, as they did versus tonight’s opponent last Monday night in Buffalo.

So if you’re looking to gauge where the Capitals are entering the new year, it is best to wait and see how they handle the success of beating the best team in the east, and then playing the worst team in the NHL, with the Sabres sandwiched in between.

During Wednesday’s win, Washington scored first and last, with two of the four goals coming from the much maligned Alexander Semin. If Alex Ovechkin is the Great 8, then Semin is no doubt the magic man, and not because of his goal scoring ability. No.28 has a serious knack for the being able to pull off the now you see me, now you don't trick as well as Harry Houdini. 

While Semin is, or used to be as talented as most top tier players in the NHL, he has become known more for disappearing during games, inconsistent and lazy play, and not being a team player than he has for his multi goals nights. Wednesday’s two-goal performance was Semin’s first multi goal game since scoring a hat trick in Anaheim last February-16 during a 7-6 Washington win.

The magic man is starting to heat up just a bit as temperatures start to get a bit colder. Semin now has four goals in his last five games, and six points during that span. The Capitals are now 10-3-1 this Season when Semin records a point.

SPEAKING OF MULTI-POINT NIGHT'S

With two assists on Wednesday, Alex Ovechkin recorded his first multiple-point game since Nov. 4 at Carolina. The Great 8 had gone 23 straight games without recording more than one point, the longest such streak of his seven-year NHL career. Ovechkin had streaks of 13 games without multiple points in both 2006-07 and 2010-11.

Ovie has a chance to continue his quality offensive outputs as he enters tonight’s game with 12 goals in 20 games versus Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller.

PENALTY KILL DOMINANT:

Washington killed all five Rangers power plays on Wednesday. It marked the seventh straight home game that the Caps have not allowed a power play tally. Much of Washington's game plan in stopping the opposition’s power play has been blocking shots.

Including the penalty kill, the Capitals blocked 20 shots during their win over the Blueshirts.

TONIGHT'S OPPONENET:

If there has been any team that's dominated the Capitals during the short term this season, it is the Buffalo Sabres. Washington has dropped two decisions to Buffalo by a combined score of 9-3. The first meeting between the two teams back on November-26 was the last for Caps former coach Bruce Boudreau.

With Dale Hunter behind the bench this past Monday night, Washington fell behind 1-0 in the first minute of play, 2-0 before they had a shot on goal , and were down 4-0 after the first period, losing 4-2.

However, with the Caps (18-15-2) win over New York, they overtook the Sabres for 10th in the Eastern conference. Washington has 38 points, and the Sabres (17-16-3) are a point behind in 11th.

Buffalo is not exactly playing it's best hockey of the season, as injuries have decimated head coach Lindy Ruff's roster. The Sabres were down nine regulars when the teams first met back in November, and were down six this past Monday. Buffalo is now 4-7-2 in its last 13 games, with two of those victories over the Capitals.

Buffalo lost 3-1 in New Jersey on Wednesday night.

With the Capitals playing dominant on the penalty kill at home, allowing no goals in their past seven home games, tonight's game will break at least one streak for one team. The Sabres have scored at least one power play goal in each of their last four games, and they are 8-for-27 (29.6%) with the extra man in their last half dozen games. Buffalo went 2-for-5 with the extra man in Monday’s 4-2 win over Washington at First Niagara Center.

CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT UNDER HUNTER?

The Capitals enter tonight's game 6-6-1 in the 13 games with new head coach Dale Hunter behind the bench. According to Mike Vogel of the Caps website, one of Washington's biggest areas of improvement during Hunter’s first month on the job has been in the team’s 5-on-5 play. The Caps have allowed two or fewer even-strength goals in 12 of 13 games under Hunter, and they’ve allowed a total of 25 even-strength tallies in his 13 games.

Contrast that with the final 13 games of the Boudreau administration in which Washington surrendered 40 even-strength goals and limited the opposition to two or fewer just four times in those 13 contests. 

CHECKING ON THE CZECH'S BETWEEN THE PIPES

One area of concern for Capitals fans has been the play of their veteran Czech goalie, and their young Czech goalie this season. On Wednesday, 14-year veteran Tomas Vokoun was above average versus the Rangers, and will likely get the nod at home against the Sabres. 

Making his first start since Dec. 13, Tomas Vokoun was solid during the game, but must still work on controlling rebounds better. He stopped 31 of the 32 shots he faced and has now stopped 47 of the last 49 shots (.959 save pct.) he has faced, including a relieving Michael Neuvirth Monday night in Buffalo. 

Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller is 0-3-0 with a 3.38 goals against average in his last three games at the Verizon Center, and is having a very unlike Ryan Miller season. He is just 9-9-2 with a GAA over three (3.05) for the first time this late in the season during his NHL career.

Miller will have his work cut out for him on tonight: In their recent hot streak at home, Washington has scored 16 goals and averaged 27.6 shots in five games. 

STARTING STRONGER:

The Capitals must improve on starting faster. Even though Marcus Johansson scored the first goal on Wednesday, his first since November-11, the Capitals have been outscored in the first and second period this season. Washington has been bested by eight in the first and seven ion the second. The Caps have outscored their opponents 41-32 during the final frame of the game this season.

Washington is 8-10-1 when surrendering the first goal this season. The Capitals are 12-5-1 at Verizon Center this season, the seventh-best record on home ice in the NHL this season (entering play Thursday). Their 12 home wins are tied for second in the Eastern Conference and tied for first in the Southeast Division. Washington is 4-1-0 in its last five home games.    

DEFENSE IS OFFENSIVE: 

Washington’s nine defenseman have combined for 15 goals and 61 assists for 76 points in the team’s 35 games this season. A defenseman has contributed at least one point in 29 of Washington’s 35 games this year. While the Caps continue to wait for their most offensive defenseman, Mike Green, Dennis Wideman leads all blue liners with five goals and 23 points. Green has now missed 21 games (11/12-12/28), and is currently listed as day-to-day. However, Green has been skating with the team at practice.

BACK-TO-BACKS

The Capitals will travel to Columbus to play the Blue Jackets for a New Year’s Eve tilt tomorrow night.  Washington is 2-1 in the first game of back-to backs this season, and has yet to win the second game (0-2-1) of consecutive tilts this season.

GAME UPDATE:

The benefit of having technical problems publishing this post is that I am including a game update of tonight's contest vs. the Sabres. After the first period, the Capitals lead the Sabres 1-0, and have taken the play to Buffalo.

Washington scored on a power play goal as Alex Ovechkin scored his 13th goal in his last 21 games vs. Buffalo starter Ryan Miller. Washington is outshooting the Sabres 11-2, and outhitting them 9-4. 

Tomas Vokoun did indeed get the start between the pipes and has not had to do much, stopping both shots he faced. Troy Brouwer dropped the gloves with Christian Ehrhoff, but Jason Chimera took exception to a cheap shot hit from behind by defenseman Mike Webber, and also dropped the gloves with him. It was Weber's boarding penalty just 27 seconds into the contest that gave the Caps the power play they scored on. 

Ovechkin's goal was his 13th of the season and now has a point in five straight games. The Great 8 now has eight points in his last nine games.