Ovechkin's first tally of the season proved to be the game-winner in a 3-2 victory Sunday afternoon for the Capitals against the Buffalo Sabres at Verizon Center. Washington became the last team in the NHL to claim a victory this season, while the Sabres dropped their third straight game.
The victory is the first as an NHL head coach for Adam Oates. Joel Ward and Jason Chimera had two points each, while Michal Neuvirth had another strong start in net with 23 saves. Ryan Miller made 28 saves for Buffalo, but the offense sagged without top scorer Thomas Vanek.
"Today I thought we played a pretty complete game. [Neuvirth] played really well for us; he made some big saves for us," Chimera said. "The power play got us one, which is huge. [Ovechkin] got one, which is huge for us."
Ovechkin potted his first of the season with his team on the power play at 5:11 of the third period to give Washington a 3-1 lead. One of the alterations Oates has made is shifting the Capitals into more of a 1-3-1 look on the power play, and that has moved Ovechkin down from the left point to an area near the top of the circle. That's where he was to receive a pass from Mike Green for a one-time blast past Miller.
John Erskine gave the Capitals only their second lead of the season at 3:18 of the second period. His shot from the left point hit a couple of Buffalo players on the way in, and moved enough to fool Miller.
Erskine had not scored a goal since Game 4 of the second round of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and this was his first in the regular sesaon since April 5, 2011.
Tyler Ennis put the Sabres in front at 9:34 of the opening period. A Washington turnover gave Buffalo an odd-man rush on the counterattack, and Ennis flipped a backhander shot past Neuvirth after a pass from Steve Ott.
It was Ennis' first tally of the season, and only the third this season by someone not on Buffalo's top line. Vanek, Cody Hodgson and Jason Pominville have three each for the Sabres, but Vanek was out of the lineup because of a muscle strain.
"Obviously, you can’t replace Thomas Vanek, but other guys can step up, and it takes the whole team to compensate for a guy like that," Hodgson said. "We need to put in a better effort all-around but especially our line could have done more."
Ward has been the closest thing to an offensive force for the Capitals in this early season, and he collected his third goal of the campaign to level the score. Ward got between two Buffalo defenders in the slot, and he was able to put home the rebound of a Chimera shot from near the goal line to the left of Miller.
Ward now has three goals this season, while no other Washington player has more than one. He has five points to lead the team, while Chimera, who had two assists in this contest, and Mike Ribeiro have four each. Those three have been together on a line for the past two games.
Without Vanek, the Sabres' offense struggled, especially during a second period that featured only six shots on net for the road team.
"Hopefully it’s not long, but you can’t be defined by one guy," Miller said. "It’s great when we have a full team, but that’s not going to be the case this year. It’s going to be too fast and not a lot of rest. There are going to be things that pop up and you have to deal with them. We made a few adjustments tonight to our game, and compliment that with play-making and goal-scoring that we saw early on and maybe we’d have a few more [goals]. I’m not going to say we had a great game but I saw some things that we did a lot better."
Marcus Foligno did cut Washington's lead to 3-2 midway through the third period. Foligno set up at the top of the crease and muscled his way to a rebound goal at 10:13. It was his first of the season after producing six (and seven assists) in 14 games after being called up late in the 2011-12 campaign.
Ovechkin missed a chance to make it a two-goal game when his shot at an empty net hit the side of the goal in the final minute.
"Finally we got the win, and that is all that matters," Neuvirth said. "We are extremely happy, but tomorrow is another day and another game on Tuesday and we’ve got to be ready."