For the third time this season, the Buffalo Sabres and Washington Capitals could not finish their matchup in regulation. Unlike their first two meetings, the Capitals emerged victorious Tuesday night in overtime by a final score of 5-4 at First Niagara Center.
Alexander Ovechkin passed up an overtime chance at a hat trick, passing to Mike Green for the game-winning goal at the 1:00 mark of overtime. Ovechkin finished with two goals and two assists after being held without a point in each of the first two meetings between these teams.
Ovechkin helped the Capitals find early success, as Washington scored on two of their first three shots. After a quick faceoff win by Washington’s Troy Brouwer, the puck rolled right to the stick of Alexander Ovechkin, who buried a quick slap shot past the outstretched pad of Jhonas Enroth just under four minutes into the game.
Just 1:07 after the first Washington goal, Christian Ehrhoff turned the puck over attempting a pass to Phil Varone. The puck eventually made its way back to Green, who snapped a shot that was deflected by Ovechkin past Enroth’s glove.
Despite the early struggles from Enroth, Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan was pleased with how his goaltender elevated his play as the game progressed.
“That’s just going to happen. In a situation like that, he’s gotta learn that if that does happen, he has to battle through it, and he certainly did for us,” Nolan said. “The best thing about the whole thing is the way he fought back, which was a positive side.”
Enroth had the right mentality after the lackluster start, which helped his team stay in the game.
“Just try to forget what happened and focus on the next puck, and make the best of the situation all the time,” he said.
The Sabres picked up their play significantly in the second half of the first period, and they were able to provide their goaltender with some offense.
Ehrhoff found redemption for his earlier turnovers at the 13:45 mark of the period, finishing the play after Matt Moulson was unable to bury a rebound past Washington goaltender Braden Holtby.
The Sabres wasted no time tying the game as the second period began. After Zemgus Girgensons drew a tripping call on Washington’s Dmitry Orlov, Cody Hodgson received a great pass from Moulson and scored his sixth power-play goal of the season.
“I think just working with [Ott] creates so much room for me to get going,” he said. “He’s a great complement, I think we work well off each other. He’s always finding open ice, and Ville I think fit in really well with us making plays and put us in areas where he can work.”
Center Phil Varone helped the Sabres in a big way by scoring his first goal with the Sabres midway through the second period. Marcus Foligno pushed the puck over to Varone, who snapped the puck past Holtby to tie the game at 3-3.
Varone had two great scoring chances in the first period by getting in position in front of the net, and the third time was the charm for the young center.
“Absolutely, I think more in the [American Hockey League] I try to control the puck around the perimeter and find my teammates,” he said. “Here, I think I get to be a little more simple and that’s why I’m trying to get to the net more. I’m going to start hopefully feeling more comfortable and making a bit more plays with the puck. For now, I’m just going to go to the net and hope to bang a few in.”
For the 23-year-old Varone, his first NHL goal will be a memory to hold on to forever.
“I mean, it’s every kid’s dream. I’ve thought about it a lot ever since I was called up,” he said. “It took me 27 games to get my first pro goal in the AHL, so this one came a little bit sooner. It’s a good weight off the shoulders.”
Washington would not be denied the lead, however, as their power play collected its second goal of the night at the 16:57 mark of the second. Martin Erat found a wide-open Troy Brouwer in the high slot and Brouwer’s wrist shot just beat Enroth.
Hodgson’s second goal forced overtime, but in the end it was just not enough for the Sabres to pull out a victory.
“I thought we had a lot of character in that room,” Hodgson said. “We showed guts battling back, but it’s a winnable game for us. We could have closed it out in the third period, and had some little mistakes and breakdowns that ultimately cost us. It’s tough, I thought we did battle back and show a lot, but it wasn’t enough.
“It just seems like that’s the type of game that we need to be able to close out. Jhonas made some great saves, especially late, but as a team I think we can do a lot better at the little things that, if we get four goals, I think we should be able to win.”
Nolan readily acknowledged that the team showed the effort necessary to win throughout a majority of the game, but Buffalo still has many corrections to make moving forward.
“To control the third period the way we did, you’re happy at one point. But on the other side, there’s little parts of our game that we need to continue to work on and make corrections on. That was a big lesson learned in a bad situation.”
Buffalo will be heading back on the road this weekend as the team flies out to face two Western Conference opponents. The Sabres will take on the Phoenix Coyotes at 9 p.m. on Thursday. That game will be followed by a matchup with the Colorado Avalanche on Feb. 1 at 3 p.m.