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Capitals Break Losing Streak With Home Victory Over Buffalo
By ZAC BOYER | firstname.lastname@example.org
WASHINGTON – There were signs, Adam Oates noticed, that the Washington Capitals were getting better. On Friday at New Jersey, the team erased a two-goal lead midway through the third period before falling in overtime to the defending Eastern Conference champions.
“I’ll take 10 losses in a row if you play like that, because it will turn one time and then we won’t lose,’” Oates told his players after the game. “You play like that, it will turn.”
So it did Sunday afternoon at Verizon Center, where the Capitals, mired in their worst start in almost two decades, played their most complete game of the season in earning a 3-2 victory over Buffalo.
The effort and attitude with which the Capitals played was reminiscent of the high-powered offenses of seasons past. Alex Ovechkin, all but absent over the first four games, played a physical game and scored his first goal on the power play early in the third period. Joel Ward and John Erskine each added goals, a struggling penalty kill unit didn’t give in and Michal Neuvirth stopped 22 of 24 shots in the victory.
Washington (1-3-1) hadn’t been winless through five games since 1993-94, when it lost its first six games. And despite entering the season with a new head coach whose expertise seemed to be a good fit for the team’s talents, the Capitals were the only team in the NHL to enter Sunday without a victory.
“I think guys will be a little bit at ease,” Erskine said. “It’s not so much pressure now. And I think we got a good thing going here and we just got to keep rolling.”
The Capitals had led for only 2:32 over the previous four games and never held an advantage in either of their last two games. They trailed again early, with Tyler Ennis scoring for Buffalo midway through the first period when John Carlson turned the puck over in the neutral zone.
But the Sabres (2-3), playing without their leading scorer in Thomas Vanek, who strained an undisclosed muscle Friday against Carolina, couldn’t extend their advantage.
Ward scored his team-high third goal of the season on a rebound of a shot by Jason Chimera with just under four minutes left in the first, and Erskine scored his first goal since April 2011 on what he called “a little muffin” from the left point that deflected off Buffalo center Steve Ott’s stick.
The Capitals, meanwhile, killed two crucial penalties – one by Erskine for tripping in the closing seconds of the first period, and another on Joey Crabb roughly seven minutes into the third period for hooking – and worked past a problem that had dogged them since the start of the season.
“I think we’ve had a couple tough bounces,” said Oates, whose team allowed eight goals on 24 opportunities but did not do so for the first time Sunday. “[Sometimes it was] a rebound just bouncing over a guy’s stick, where today it hit our guy’s stick and we got a clear out of it. I thought it was much better.”
Ovechkin, held scoreless over the first four games for the first time in his career, climbed out of that rut 5:11 into the third period. With Buffalo’s Alexander Sulzer in the penalty box for delay of game, Mike Green took the puck at the right point and sent it over to Ovechkin in the left circle, allowing Ovechkin to beat Ryan Miller through the top left corner for a 3-1 lead.
“When he moves his feet, he’s the best player in the world,” Chimera said. “That’s what he can do. You could tell through two periods that even though he didn’t have anything, he was playing good. You could tell he was on the forecheck, he was getting to guys, he was in the cycle. That’s what we need from him. When he does that, people follow. That’s the name of the game.”
Any worries about conditioning and confidence are now gone for the Capitals, who begin a two-game Canadian road trip Tuesday in Ottawa that continues with a stop in Toronto on Thursday.
And they do so now with a victory.
“You know, everyone keeps rubbing it in your face that we’re the only team without a win,” Ward said. “I’ve heard that one many times now, so it’s good to join everybody else. Now it’s just try to leapfrog everybody.”
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