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Holtby makes 31 saves, Capitals shut out Sabres

by Joe Yerdon

BUFFALO -- One of the biggest reasons for the Washington Capitals' success this season has been the play of goalie Braden Holtby.

That was the case again Monday against the Buffalo Sabres.

Alex Ovechkin and Jay Beagle each scored in the second period, and Holtby made 31 saves to help the Capitals to a 2-0 win against the Sabres at First Niagara Center.

It was Holtby's second shutout this season and the 22nd of his NHL career. The Capitals (27-6-2), who lead the Montreal Canadiens by 11 points for first place in the Eastern Conference, have won eight games in a row and 15 of their past 17.

"The goaltending is 75 percent of the team, or 80 percent," Ovechkin said. "We know [Holtby]'s good. He's our best player and probably the best goalie in the League right now. Like he did today, especially at the end, don't give them any chance, and we feel comfortable out there."

Holtby came up big in the second period, when he made 12 saves and helped kill two Buffalo power plays.

His sprawling glove save against Sabres forward Evander Kane with 1:01 left in the game preserved the Capitals' two-goal lead. Kane gathered the puck on his backhand before taking a shot on the forehand, giving Holtby just enough time to dive, get in front of the puck and grab it with his glove.

"I got it up, and usually when I get it up over his pad, it goes in," Kane said. "He made a great save. I haven't been robbed like that in a while."

Holtby hasn't lost in regulation since Nov. 10, when the Detroit Red Wings defeated Washington 1-0.

"He's definitely a main reason why we're sitting at the top right now," Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said. "The saves that he had today, it could have been 2-1, 2-2 easily. So you need a goaltender to go deep in this league and win, so he's our guy right now. We've got to protect him, and hopefully he can continue to see the puck the way he has been.

"We are excited to play; we have fun out there, so guys can just jump in and feed off the energy that the rest of the guys are giving. We work good all the way up and down the lineup, and that showed tonight."

Ovechkin opened the scoring 19 seconds into the second period with his 18th goal. Capitals forward T.J. Oshie tapped the puck into the corner, where Nicklas Backstrom grabbed it and passed to Ovechkin alone in the slot for a one-timer over the glove of Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark.

"When we get the lead, we just have to play simple," Ovechkin said, "because they are going to make a push, and we have to use their mistakes."

Beagle made it 2-0 with 7:05 left in the second. He scored his sixth goal when he put the rebound of a Tom Wilson shot from the blue line past Ullmark.

The Sabres (15-17-4) have lost two of three.

"Both the goals against were wall play there, and that's what leads to their goals; we gave them those opportunities," Buffalo coach Dan Bylsma said. "Yes, the margin for error is tiny and small, and I felt like, in the game, they get the goal right at the beginning of the second period, so they get up there, but we didn't give them a lot. What they got, we gave them, and they're big plays for us."

Beagle's goal came 2:06 after Capitals forward Michael Latta left the game with an upper-body injury he sustained in a fight against Sabres forward Nicolas Deslauriers.

"I thought even in the Latta fight, we got a little momentum, a little karma when [Deslauriers] wants to play it up a little bit like that," Washington coach Barry Trotz said. "That's usually good karma. It actually helped us out on the bench, and we scored right away. I thought more than anything it was just karma."

Buffalo forward Tyler Ennis nearly made it 2-1 with 4:10 left in the game when he put the puck past Holtby, but the apparent goal was waved off because Ennis made contact with the Washington goalie. Bylsma challenged the call on the ice, but video review confirmed the referee's call.

"I'm not sure I really have the ability to challenge the no-goal call, (but) I did anyways," Bylsma said. "But he made that call on the ice that it was contact. That's the call [the referee] made, and I'm not really sure they can overturn it with the review, but with four minutes left to go in the game, I was going to take every opportunity I could to do it. The call he made on the ice stood, and it really doesn't matter if I agree with it or not."

The Sabres went 0-for-3 on the power play and are 0-for-17 in the past six games.

"We had the three power plays, easily could've used them to get back into the game in the second period with the ones we had there and the one in the third period," Bylsma said. "The execution and the ability to score the goal wasn't there, and I think there was some frustration in our team in the fact that we couldn't come through with what we needed to on that power play."

Washington defenseman John Carlson missed the game with a lower-body injury, ending his streak of 412 consecutive games played. He's second in Capitals history behind Bobby Carpenter's 422 consecutive games played. Connor Carrick replaced him in the lineup and played in his first NHL game since April 13, 2014.

"You play in this league and you get 400-plus games in a row, it's pretty good now," Trotz said. "Especially for defensemen when you can't hold up like you used to and guys are taking free shots at you at 30 miles an hour. He's pretty durable, he's a big guy, and he's a terrific talent. We missed him tonight, but guys stepped up, and that's the blessing of having people out that you find out a lot about your group and you find out about the guys that are waiting for opportunity."

Ullmark made 24 saves in his first start since Dec. 15.

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