The Washington Capitals closed out their second two-game set against the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday afternoon, dropping a 4-3 Gimmick decision to the visitors. Nevertheless, the Caps extended their season-opening streak of games with points to six.
The teams went back and forth in grinding fashion over the first third of the opening frame, and it was the Caps’ grinding effort that resulted in the game’s first goal. Garnet Hathaway started the scoring play without touching the puck, flattening Taylor Hall in the corner to the left of goalie Linus Ullmark and forcing Hall to fire the puck around the end boards to the opposite point. Justin Schultz settled the biscuit and fired a shot that seemed to clip Nic Dowd on the way through, sneaking through Ullmark’s pads to give the Caps a 1-0 lead 6:58 into the game, Schultz credited with his first goal as a Capital.
Connor McMichael had a chance to get his first NHL point late in the period, setting up at the top of the crease for a redirect attempt, but instead of converting that, he was whistled for his first NHL penalty moments later. The Caps successfully killed off the ensuing power play, thanks largely to some fine netminding by Vitek Vanecek.
Neither team was able to mount much of a consistent threat over the last few minutes of the period, and the Caps took a 1-0 lead to the first intermission.
-- Buffalo double up on the Caps in shots on goal, 16-8, and they out-attempted Washington, 25-16.
-- Conversely, the Caps out-hit the Sabres, 10-3. Garnet Hathaway led the team with four, and Richard Panik added three.
-- Nicklas Backstrom led the club in blocked shots in the period with three.
-- Connor McMichael’s first period in the NHL…one shot on goal, two shot attempts, a minor penalty in 4:56 of ice time.
Washington enjoyed the rare Sabre penalty early in the period, Jake McCabe going off at 1:23 of the period on a tripping call. The Caps managed four shots on goal on the power play, none of them eluding Ullmark.
The teams traded two-on-one breaks in the eighth minute of the period, but Vanecek foiled the Sabres’ chance, and Ullmark got enough of his glove on a Nic Dowd attempt to keep it a one-goal game.
Buffalo got their second power play of the contest when Zdeno Chara took a tripping call 8:20 into the period. With Trevor van Riemsdyk losing his stick and using Lars Eller’s, Buffalo converted, Colin Miller firing a one-timer through a clot of players past Vanecek’s left arm to tie the game at 10:07 of the period.
The Caps got their second power play chance 10:45 into the period when Rasmus Ristolainen hauled down Nicklas Backstrom behind the Buffalo net. Washington converted when Justin Schultz took a feed at the top of the offensive zone, stepped up and fired a shot that was deflected by T.J. Oshie past Ullmark to make it a 2-1 game, 11:51 into the period.
Washington went a man short shortly after the tie-breaking goal, Nic Dowd going off for tripping, the fourth tripping call of the contest (two apiece). The Sabres converted, working the puck smartly down low, Victor Olafsson converting a pass from Sam Reinhart to tie the game at the 13:04 mark.
The Caps took their third tripping call of the period when Jonas Siegenthaler was sent off at the 15:46 mark. The Sabres tried several attempts to set up Olafsson for one-timers, but to no avail. The Caps killed the penalty.
The Caps had an excellent chance in the last minute with Lars Eller leading a two-on-one entry into the offensive zone. He fed the puck across to Richard Panik for a one-timer, but Ullmark smothered the attempt. The teams left the ice tied, 2-2, after 40 minutes.
- The Caps were out-shot, 19-9, in the period and out-attempted, 29-13.
- Eleven of the Sabres’ 19 shots were on power plays.
- Nicklas Backstrom led the team in shots on goal through two periods (three) and was tied in blocked shots (three) with Justin Schultz.
- Through two periods, the Caps were not credited with a takeaway, and Buffalo was not charged with a giveaway.
Less than two minutes into the period, Schultz had an excellent chance from between the circles, but the shot was smothered in front as Ullmark was sliding across his crease.
Washington took the period’s first penalty when Nic Dowd was called for cross-checking 6:03 into the period, his second minor penalty of the game. Eric Staal made the Caps pay, firing a one-timer from the right wing circle over Vanecek’s left shoulder on the short side to make it 3-2, Sabres, at the 7:24 mark.
The Caps went on their own power play less than a minute later, Brandon Montour going off for interference. Nicklas Backstrom converted when he pulled a loose puck away from Ullmark at the goal line and snapped a shot from below the line off Ullmark’s pad, off the far post and in to tie the game, 3-3, 9:28 into the period.
Just past the half-way mark of the period, Taylor Hall got behind the Caps’ defense and drew a penalty shot when he was prevented from a scoring chance. Hall’s attempt hit the post to Vanecek’s left and out – no goal. Although Buffalo dominated territory over the last half of the period, the teams finished regulation tied, 3-3.
Jack Eichel was a one-man stickhandling show to start overtime, and he almost won it when he toe-dragged the puck through John Carlson and tried to feed the puck between Vanecek’s pads, but the goalie prevailed.
Eichel had another chance in the third minute, but his one-timer as the late arriving forward was gloved down by Vanecek.
Justin Schultz had his own chance to win it for the Caps, taking a feed as he was steaming down the middle, but his snap shot was gloved by Ullmark. Backstrom had his chance on a first shot and rebound on a break, but he was stopped both times by Ullmark. That would be the last, best chance as the teams went to…
- Carlson: save
- Eichel: goal
- Oshie: save
- Mittlestadt: save
- Backstrom: save
Sabres win, 4-3
-- The Caps went to extra time for the fourth straight game, the first time they went four in a row since late in the 2010-2011 season, when they went 3-0-1 over a four-game extra time stretch, losing in a Gimmick against Carolina before taking three decisions over Columbus, Buffalo, and Toronto.
-- This was the third Gimmick for the Caps in six games. Last season, the Caps played their third Gimmick in Game 20.
-- Only five rookie goalies in Caps history faced more shots in a game than the 48 Vitek Vanecek faced, and the last one to do it – Al Jensen – did it in February 1982, when he faced 56 shots in a 7-3 loss to the Minnesota North Stars. Bernie Wolfe is the only Caps goalie to face more shots as a rookie on home ice, facing 54 shots against the Philadelphia Flyers in December 1975 in a 7-5 loss.
-- Buffalo out-shot the Caps, 48-31, and out-attempted them, 78-54.
-- Nicklas Backstrom led the Caps with six shots on goal; Justin Schultz led the club with nine shot attempts.
-- Trevor van Riemsdyk was the only Capital not recording a shot attempt.
-- The Caps allowed three power play goals, the first time they allowed that many in a game since they allowed Tampa Bay three power play goals in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Lightning on March 20, 2019.
-- Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and an assist for his 247th career multi-point game.
-- John Carlson logged 28:52 in ice time to lead the team, but it was Justin Schultz who led the team in even strength ice time (20:46).
-- Connor McMichael’s first game line… 9:54 ice time, 0-0-0, even, one minor penalty, one shot, two shot attempts, won only faceoff.
In the end…
Six games, six games with points. Frankly, things could be much worse for this club, but they have shown a resiliency in grinding through difficult situations. It gets harder from here with the New York Islanders coming to town, but even with today’s result, the Caps are finding a hard-edged character that might do them well, in a few months.