WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Buffalo Sabres are winners of three-straight games after a hard-fought victory Saturday night over the Washington Capitals.
Torrey Mitchell scored the game-winner with 7:42 to play in regulation to secure a 2-1 win at Verizon Center. Jhonas Enroth was sturdy in net, making 43 saves, including 20 in the second period.
Matt Moulson also scored for Buffalo while Matt Niskanen tallied for Washington.
It looked like Mitchell might be out for the game when a hard shoot-in from teammate Rasmus Ristolainen caught him in the left foot with 13:36 to play in the third period. It took Mitchell some time to get up and make his way back to the bench.
However, after checking it out with the medical staff, he returned to the game shortly after and played a huge role in the win.
“Jhonas made some big saves for us and kept us around long enough that we found a way. Mitchell, his goal, almost like a modern-day Bobby Baun story,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “He goes out, comes back in and was at the right place at the right time for us.”
During the third period of Game 6 of the 1964 Stanley Cup Final, Baun, a defenseman for the Maple Leafs, broke his foot on a shot by Gordie Howe. He had it looked at with the medical staff, and although it was broken, he returned to play. He ended up scoring the game-winning goal just two minutes into overtime.
Nolan, thankfully, doesn’t think Mitchell’s injury is as severe.
“Right now, he’s got a lot of smiles on his face so I think once the adrenaline for the game goes off, he could be a little bit sore but I don’t think it’s anything serious,” he said.
Enroth had to come up big on several occasions. He made three stops in the final 1:19, including a one-timer from Niskanen and a slap shot from Alexander Ovechkin.
“I really tried to dig in those last couple of minutes and keep my focus the whole game because I didn’t want to give up a bad goal in the end and have it go to overtime or anything like that,” Enroth said. “So I just told myself to try to stay focused the last couple minutes and see what happens.”
FIRST LINE OF OFFENSE
With 9:45 remaining in the second, Buffalo got onto the scoreboard first. Zemgus Girgensons lost the faceoff, but won a battle along the wall to get the puck to Tyler Ennis. Ennis curled into the slot and wristed a shot wide to the left of the net.
The puck banked off the end boards and out the other side. Matt Moulson moved from his position in front of the net toward the right wing corner and backhanded the rebounding puck into the goal from a tough angle.
The line of Moulson, Girgensons and Ennis has been solid for the Sabres in the five games they’ve now been together.
Moulson now has seven points in his past seven games (3+4), Ennis has 10 points (3+7) in his past 11 games and Girgensons has eight points (4+4) in his past nine games.
The Capitals tied the game on the power play 5:54 into the third when Niskanen’s slap shot from the point deflected off Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers’ stick.
Buffalo stayed positive and battled back.
“Before, we’d have a goal that tied it or go down a goal and we’d hang our heads a bit, I don’t think we’re feeling sorry for ourselves. If that was the case before, I think now, we know what we have to do. Maybe we’re learning what it takes to win. Any way you can get it, if it’s ugly or nice, it doesn’t matter. That was a good, ugly win for us.”
Cody McCormick left after the game with an injury that occurred late in the first period. While down on the ice, it appeared that he was inadvertently kicked in the head by a falling Eric Fehr.
“Any time it has to do with the head, you’re worried all the time. There’s no such thing as a mild one or a little one, it is what it is. We’ll keep our fingers crossed and see what happens.”
HOLDING OFF OVIE
Myers and Tyson Strachan found themselves matched up against Ovechkin for much of the night. While the Capitals captain had 17 shot attempts, including eight on goal, Buffalo held him off the score sheet.
Strachan, who played for Washington last season, knows first-hand how good Ovechkin can be.
“A guy like that, he’s an explosive guy. Obviously playing with him, I’ve seen what he can do and he loves to shoot the puck,” Strachan said. “He’s very good at it. There’s a reason he scores 50 every year. For Jhonny to get his eyes on those pucks and get pads on them, I thought the guys did a great job of blocking shots as well.”
Alternate captain Josh Gorges has missed the past three games with a lower-body injury and Strachan has stepped up to help fill the void.
“You feel bad for Gorges right now and the team could really use him. He’s a heck of a player and we’re hoping for him to get back as soon as he can,” Strachan said. “But while I’m called upon, I’m going to relish the fact I’m playing the minutes and try to battle it out.”
Nolan has been very pleased with Strachan’s play as well as the pair of 2013 first-round picks Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov and 20-year-old center Zemgus Girgensons.
Through 21 games, the team is starting to come together but they know there is still a lot of work to be done.
“The first 10 games, as any young team, you’re building. You’re going to have your moments and certainly we did. The next 10 games we’ve gotten a lot better,” Nolan said. “Strachan is one of those guys where he’s a seasoned veteran. He has some experience and he’s playing his role to a T.”
Buffalo next plays Wednesday night when they host the Winnipeg Jets at 7 p.m.