As bad as things have been for the Washington Capitals as of late, the boys in red, white, and blue keep finding new ways to reach new lows.
Saturday night on the road, the Caps put forth the type of effort that gets coaches fired and players traded in a 5-1 loss to the depleted Buffalo Sabres.
The home team was playing without nine regular roster players, including star goalie Ryan Miller (but not leading goal scorers Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, and Luke Adam). Both teams played on Friday, with Washington dropping a 6-3 result to the New York Rangers and Buffalo falling 5-1 to the league-worst Columbus Blue Jackets.
It was clear which team responded to the loss and which team fell further into a slump. Buffalo out-skated the Caps from the start, out-shooting the visitors 28-27 and out-chancing Washington by a great margin.
The Sabres’ Adam had a pair of goals in the win, as did Pominville, Zach Kassian, and Jochen Hecht. Jason Chimera was the lone Capital to put the puck behind Buffalo goalie Jhonas Enroth, who was outstanding compared to his counterpart on the other side of the ice, Tomas Vokoun.
Washington found themselves in a hole after a lackluster first period which saw deflections lead directly to two Buffalo goals. Midway through the frame, Dennis Wideman attempted to clear the puck around the boards while being pressured by Paul Szczechura and his pass redirected off the forward’s foot directly to a waiting Luke Adam in the slot. Adam’s slap shot stunned an unsuspecting Vokoun and gave the Sabres the lead.
Five minutes later, Buffalo captain Jason Pominville doubled his team’s lead off a fluky bounce. A shot by Erhoff from the point deflected off Thomas Vanek and bounced high in the air, bouncing off Vokoun’s stabbing attempt to secure it in his glove and landing on the doorstep of the crease, where Pominville pounced to bat it into a vacated net.
Chimera appeared to turn things around for Washington with his 2nd period strike. The winger snuck behind the Buffalo defense to break in alone on net and Christian Erhoff dove to poke the puck away, taking Chimera’s legs out from under him at the same time. It was ruled a denial of a clear scoring chance and Chimera was awarded a penalty shot. His wrist shot from the slot beat Enroth high on the left side, sneaking under the crossbar and lodging in the protective padding along the post.
Any hope that Chimera’s marker, his team-leading 9th of the season, would reinvigorate Washington was quickly doused on the very next shift, 27 seconds later. Rookie Zach Kassian, appearing in his first NHL game, beat Vokoun with a soft shot from the right half-boards on the Sabres’ entry into the zone.
Washington staved off further Buffalo attempts in the second, and headed into the locker room with a two-goal deficit. Disappointingly, the Caps once again started the period flat while the Sabres came out firing. Adam potted his second goal of the game just 72 seconds into the frame, taking the puck out of the right corner on the cycle, faking Brooks Laich with a shoulder dip and then wristing a shot over Vokoun’s shoulder on the far side.
Adding insult to injury was Hecht’s shorthanded goal in the later part of the third frame. A fumbling sequence by John Carlson and Mathieu Perreault at the blue line on the power play let Hecht streak in alone on net, outracing Alexander Ovechkin and beating Vokoun with a simple wrist shot to the right corner.
After the game Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau suggested that his team’s plan coming in to the game was to sit back, play defense, and try to beat the Sabres in a low-scoring, one-goal game. When that plan obviously failed in the first period Washington looked confused and outmanned. Particularly disappointing was the effort of the top line of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Troy Brouwer, who were a combined -11 and took only 5 shots.
Ovechkin was benched for the final 5:21 of the game – not touching the ice after giving up the shorthanded tally to Hecht – and the sense is that Boudreau is running out of players to bench and tactical moves to make before the organization decides if a message must be sent off the ice in order to effect change on it.
Abram Fox is the Washington Capitals Page Editor for District Sports Page. He has been covering the Capitals from the press box since the 2007-08 season.