WASHINGTON - Only 10 days had passed between games at Verizon Center for the Buffalo Sabres by the time they returned on Monday night, and those days hadn't been kind to the Washington Capitals. Since beating the Sabres 3-1 on Nov. 25, Washington had lost three straight games in which they were a combined 1-for-16 on the power play.
The Sabres were looking for revenge in their rematch, and found themselves in good position to get it when they entered the second intermission with a 2-1 lead on the strength of goals from Zemgus Girgensons and Kyle Okposo. Washington's power play continued to struggle as Buffalo had already killed off two penalties.
In the third period, however, the Sabres tested their luck one too many times. A call against Evander Kane for hooking gave the Capitals their third power play with 6:18 remaining in regulation, and it took only five seconds after that for Marcus Johansson to tie the game with a tip-in goal.
The game rolled into overtime, and Johansson - who also scored in the first meeting between the Sabres and Capitals - scored the game-winner midway through the extra period to seal a 3-2 victory for Washington.
"Their power play is dangerous," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "I thought we did a good job of killing them off in the first period but the second goal, the goal that they needed there with six minutes left, was a direct result of the penalty kill. We had our chances on the power play … We weren't able to come up with it."
After Johansson scored to tie the game, the Sabres still earned one more power-play chance of their own with 3:12 remaining in regulation. Like their first two power plays, however, they failed to turn it into any momentum. The Sabres were outshot 4-3 combined on their three chances with the extra man.
"Our execution was kind of poor," Okposo said. "It just seemed like we weren't in sync, we just weren't making the play that we normally do. Next game I think we just have to bear down and make sure that we're back to being simple."
Even without success on the power play, the Sabres earned their lead during a hard-working second period in which they outshot the Capitals 16-7. Okposo's go-ahead goal in the second period capped off four shifts of relentless play around the Washington net.
The third period spurred opposite results, with Washington outshooting Buffalo 16-9.
"In the end, we're not winning hockey games with one good period," said Sabres goalie Robin Lehner, who made 30 saves. "We see that we can play, so we've just got to stop changing how we play."
The loss marks the second in a row the Sabres, who found little solace in taking a point on the road. They'll have one more chance at beating the Capitals when they meet again at KeyBank Center on Friday night.
"I think at this point we know that we need two [points] and we've got to try and fight our way up the standings," Okposo said. "You're going to have some lulls in a season but we already had ours and we have to make sure that we're pushing forward and doing everything that we can to get two points. Yeah, getting a point is OK, but we had the lead in the third. We've got to try and hold it and get two."
If at first you don't succeed …
It took quite the series of events before Okposo was finally able to score and regain the lead for the Sabres with 4:37 remaining in the second period. In fact, you could argue that the Sabres came as close as a team can come to scoring without actually earning a goal on each of the three shifts prior to Okposo finally sealing the deal.
There were two mad scrambles around Capitals goalie Braden Holtby, one of which involved a save on Johan Larsson's shot from the edge of the crease and a puck stopped dead on the goal line. Between those net-front scrums, there was a Larsson goal on a long rebound that was overturned when it was ruled he had entered the zone offside.
But the Sabres kept pounding away. Okposo's forechecking behind the net on the next shift led to a Capitals turnover forced by William Carrier. Shots by Carrier and then Ryan O'Reilly led to Okposo getting the puck in front of the net, and he scored on his own rebound.
Video: BUF@WSH: Okposo slips a rebound past Holtby
"We tried to get the puck to the net," said Girgensons, who had been involved on one of the scrambles out in front. "I think it's a good sign, we're going harder to the net now, getting those dirty goals maybe if that's what you call them. I think it's a good sign that we're getting there.
Eichel stays in game after ankle scare
For nearly two minutes in the second period, Buffalo was left holding its collective breath as people wondered whether Jack Eichel has reaggravated the high-ankle sprain that forced him to miss the first 21 games of the season.
Eichel had stayed down on the ice and drifted off gingerly after a battle along the boards. Once he returned to the bench, he immediately went over be checked by trainers and was caught by cameras seemingly wincing in pain. He never did leave the bench, and returned on the very next shift after Jay Beagle scored to tie the game at 1-1 for the Capitals.
"I think it's the first time he's had any incident on the ice where he did feel the ankle," Bylsma said. "Kind of per usual with an ankle, a high-ankle sprain like that, he felt it, tweaked it, whatever the case is it's fairly normal and he returned to feeling better after that."
Girgensons ends his goalless drought
Girgensons snapped a 21-game drought without a goal when he scored to give the Sabres a 1-0 lead 5:59 into the contest. Girgensons was the beneficiary of a perfect one-time pass from Derek Grant in the neutral zone, allowing Girgensons to make his entry one stride ahead of the defense. He swept across the net from the left side beat Capitals goalie Braden Holtby with a backhand shot.
Video: BUF@WSH: Girgensons races in and roofs nice backhand
"He saw me coming across and just ripped it there," Girgensons said. "I got it and just took it to the net."
The Sabres return home to conclude their back-to-back set of games when they welcome Connor McDavid and Edmonton Oilers to KeyBank Center on Tuesday night. The Sabres earned a 6-2 when they played the Oilers in Edmonton on Oct. 16 sans Jack Eichel and Evander Kane.
Tickets are still available, as are four-person family packs for $199.
Coverage on Tuesday begins at 6:30 p.m. with the TOPS Pregame Show on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops between the Sabres and Oilers at 7 p.m.