WASHINGTON – Success on the road has been tough to come by for the Buffalo Sabres. They found some Sunday afternoon.
The Sabres snapped an 11-game losing streak on the road, defeating the Washington Capitals 2-1 in the shootout at Verizon Center.
It was the Sabres first road since a 5-4 shootout win in San Jose on Nov. 5 and their first road win under interim coach Ted Nolan. Hodgson netted the shootout winner against the Sharks as well.
“That’s a long time coming. Wish we could’ve gotten this in his first one but I think we’re definitely moving in the right direction,” Hodgson said. “You see in the home wins and just the way we’re playing, we’re coming.”
For Nolan, it was his first NHL win on the road since April 8, 2008 when he was behind the bench for the New York Islanders.
Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller made 28 saves in the regulation and overtime, including a jaw-dropping stop on Mikhail Grabovski with 2:14 left in the third period to keep the game tied 1-1. Miller left a rebound in front of the net for Grabovski and then reached over to his right and batted Grabovski’s shot down with the blade of his goal stick.
“That’s one of those ones where you’re just completely out of options. The puck came through traffic, hit me in the pads instead of the stick and I knew I was in trouble because I saw him kind of reload and get in position. Those can certainly go wrong for you. More often than not, those guys are going to score and I don’t think he quite got all of it and gave me time to kind of put a blade on it.”
The Capitals thought they had taken a 2-1 lead with 53.0 seconds remaining in regulation. A shot by Karl Alzner that beat Miller was blown dead because of a delayed penalty. Nicklas Backstrom went to the box for tripping Hodgson.
Coming off a disappointing loss at home to the Florida Panthers in the shootout on Thursday, Nolan was much happier with his team’s effort in Washington.
“If we’re going to play, we might as well play with some energy and play with some compete level,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun. I think this is the greatest game on earth so when you play with some passion and you play with some conviction, it’s a lot of fun. The guys really worked tonight and it was a lot of fun to watch.”
Ennis, who scored Buffalo’s goal on the power play with 1:51 left in the first period agreed with his coach’s assessment.
“I think it comes down to compete,” Ennis said. “In that Florida game, we were at home. We should’ve been hitting a lot more and battling a lot harder and tonight I think we did that. That first period kind of set the tone. There were a lot of hits, it was intense and it carried through the entire game. It’s fun. Those games are fun to play.”
Chimera was credited with the opening goal of the game with 8:59 to play in the first period. Coming down the left wing, his centering pass went off of defenseman Mark Pysyk’s skate and then into the net off Brian Flynn’s stick. Flynn was covering Capitals forward Marcus Johansson at the top of the crease when the puck inadvertently deflected in off his stick.
“That kind of stuff happens,” Miller said. “[Flynn’s] working and those are mistakes you just move on and keep playing.”
The Sabres tied the game on the power play on Ennis’ ninth goal of the year. Christian Ehrhoff brought the puck in up the right wing and threw a shot on net. Hodgson, battling in front, kicked the rebound into open space, where Ennis then swooped in and scored.
“[Ehrhoff] was trying to get me the puck in front and I couldn’t get my stick on it, but it hit my skate,” Hodgson said. “And I was actually trying to kick it towards the net to get a stick on it. [Ennis] came and picked it up behind me and put it in.”
Hodgson returned to the lineup for the first time after missing eight games with an upper-body injury.
“It felt great,” he said. “I’ve worked with the trainers for a little while and give them credit. They did an awesome job.”
Ville Leino also returned to the lineup after a three-game absence due to a lower-body injury and Nolan thought the presence of those two players greatly impacted the game.
“With a team that’s not too deep and kind of rebuilding, it’s tough,” he said. “But to get them back, it seemed like you brought a whole two new lines into your lineup.”
The Sabres are back in action Tuesday night when they host the Philadelphia Flyers at First Niagara Center at 7:30 p.m. (NBCSN).