recap sabres

A quick start wasn’t nearly enough for the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night in Buffalo. The Caps took an early lead in the game, only to be steamrolled by the Sabres, who skated to a 6-2 victory at Key Bank Center on the night they celebrated veteran winger Jeff Skinner, who skated in his 1,000th NHL game on Tuesday against Washington.

J.J. Peterka scored twice, the Sabres scored a pair of power-play goals in as many shots and opportunities with the extra man, and Buffalo iced the game with a three-goal flurry in 2 minutes and 25 seconds before the first television timeout of the third period.

“I thought we were fine offensively,” says Caps’ coach Spencer Carbery. “We just couldn’t handle their speed and skill. And against a team as good as they are in that department, if we can’t defend that and do a better job, it’s going to be really difficult for us. But yeah, they’re a handful for us for sure.”

By the midpoint of the third, the Caps had been credited with more blocked shots (16) than shots on net (15). Washington went more than 19 minutes without testing Buffalo netminder Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen at one point, and the Caps entered the third period with a total of just 11 shots on net.

Washington also entered the third with a chance to pick up a point or win the game; Dylan Strome’s power-play goal in the final minute of the second enabled the Caps to enter the third down just 3-2, but it all came apart quickly after that.

“Just not good enough,” says Strome. “They probably should have been up by more in the second; Chucky [Lindgren] make like 10 saves that were incredible. Just not good enough hockey.”

Washington grabbed an early 1-0 lead at 2:46 of the first, going up a goal on its first shot on goal of the game. From the left point – and with Aliaksei Protas screening Luukkonen – Marty Fehervary threaded a shot to the back of the net to put the Caps on top.

But the Caps scuffled their way through the rest of the first. Almost immediately after the Fehervary goal, Lindgren and Fehervary combined to stymie an Alex Tuch breakaway attempt, and the Sabres had the rule of the roost for most of the rest of the first; the Capitals were limited to four shots on net in the first, and none in the final 14 minutes and 24 seconds of the period. That drought extended into the second period, ending at 19 minutes and 27 seconds without a shot.

Meanwhile, the Sabres kept the heat on the Caps in their end, and at 15:42 the home team pulled even when Zemgus Girgensons got his stick on a Rasmus Dahlin left point shot, tipping it past Lindgren to make it 1-1.

“Girgensons,” answers Sabres’ coach Don Granato, when asked what turned things around for Buffalo in the first. “Zemgus made a great play on the first goal, just to keep it simple through the neutral zone, [and was] first in on the forecheck. A quick low to high – I think it was Dahlin that shot it, and Zemgus was already net front for the tip. That was a very big goal.”

With Buffalo on a power play just 68 seconds later, Peterka put the Sabres into the lead with a shelf shot from the goal line, a few feet off the left post. Buffalo took that 2-1 lead and a dominant 13-4 advantage in shots on net to the room after 20 minutes of play.

Peterka struck again just after the midpoint of the middle period. Washington appeared to have gotten a stop in its own end, and just as Nicolas Aubé-Kubel began to carry out of the zone, an alert Tuch swatted the puck off his stick and right to a stealthily lurking Peterka, who was behind the defense after taking a hit behind the net seconds earlier. Peterka was 1-on-1 with Lindgren from the top of the paint, and he beat him to make it a 3-1 game at 10:54.

The Caps weren’t able to muster much offense in the middle frame either, but they caught the break they needed when Aubé-Kubel drew a holding penalty in neutral ice, putting Washington on the power play with just 69 seconds left in the second.

It was virtually imperative for the Caps to score on the ensuing power play, and they did so when Strome tucked a backhander home from the top of the paint after Luukkonen stopped John Carlson’s initial point shot. Strome’s late goal cut the lead to 3-2 heading to the third.

Washington went right back on the power play in the first minute of the third, but before the Caps could get started with the extra man, Max Pacioretty was boxed for holding in the offensive zone, putting the teams at 4-on-4.

Once the abbreviated Buffalo power play got underway, the Sabres snapped it around the Washington zone effortlessly until Dahlin delivered a drive to the back of the net from the left point at 3:03, increasing the Buffalo lead to 4-2.

At 4:48, Tage Thompson made it 5-2 by converting a Jack Quinn feed and scoring from the slot. Just 45 seconds later, Thompson fed Tuch for a goal from virtually the same spot, ending Lindgren’s night with Buffalo up 6-2 at 5:33 of the third. Darcy Kuemper took over in net for Washington the rest of the way.

Thirteen of Washington’s 25 shots came in the third period, and 10 of them came after the sixth Buffalo goal. The last six Caps’ shots came on their final power play of the night in the final 2:02 of the game.

“We didn’t generate maybe enough Grade A’s,” Carbery elaborates, “but the [offensive zone] possession wise, I feel like it was pretty [good]. I’ll go back to the numbers, but I think it’s pretty equal.

“We didn’t generate a lot of slot chances, so a lot of our stuff is perimeter and moving around. It’s a challenge for us to beat someone with our skating or our skill, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t deliver a few more pucks to the interior. But we did have some looks and rang a couple bars, so [offensive] zone possession wise, I thought we were fine. We probably need to do a little bit more with it.”

Tuesday’s loss leaves the Caps with a three-game losing streak (0-2-1) – their first in nearly two months – as they head home to host Pittsburgh on Thursday in the front half of a set of back-to-backs. The Caps travel to Carolina for a Friday night date with the Hurricanes.