The last visit the Caps paid to First Niagara Center in Buffalo ended in an embarrassing 5-1 rout, one which ultimately ended up being the last stand for former head coach Bruce Boudreau. In the early stages of tonight’s game, it appeared to be déjà vu all over again. And though the final score last night was not quite as embarrassing, the performance was no better than that of Boudreau’s swan song, as the Washington Capitals fell to the Sabres 4-2, before a sold-out crowd roaring their approval at every opportunity.
With the win, Buffalo leapfrogs the Caps in the standings and Washington plummets to 11th in the conference.
Roman Hamrlik put the boys short-handed as he took a delay of game penalty seconds after puck drop which led directly to a Sabres’ power play goal from Jason Pominville. Unfortunately, Hamrlik’s errant ways set the ugly tone for the first period and things went quickly downhill from there.
Whether they indulged in too much holiday cheer or just flat-out weren’t ready to play, tonight’s performance was perhaps one of the ugliest we’ve seen thus far this season. At 3:10 of the opening period, Matt Ellis scored again for Buffalo. The Capitals caught a break at 8:11 when bad boy Patrick Kaleta headed off for tripping but the resulting power play proved fruitless with only one mere shot on goal, a disturbing trend during this malaise period for the Capitals.
The Capitals slogged through the first period and the night was especially unkind to goaltender Michal Neuvirth. Former Vancouver Canuck defenseman Christian Ehrhoff gave the Sabres a 3-0 lead midway through the period with a wicked wrist shot that marked the end of the evening for Neuvy, who allowed three goals on six shots. Tripping seemed to be the penalty of choice for the night and Alex Ovechkin went guilty as charged to the box at 12:39, leading to a Sabres power play that led to their fourth goal of the game. The Capitals trudged off to the dressing room, leaving a plethora of unanswered questions and flabbergasted faithful, after a dreadful and uninspired 20 minutes of play.
Though they didn’t see any more scoring, the second period momentum still swung in Buffalo’s favor.
The hit of the night belonged to Robyn Regehr, who had a rare and bone-jarring check on Alex Ovechkin into the boards. With less than 20 seconds left the in the period (and well after many a Caps fan switched channels to catch the World Juniors), it was the Capitals’ fourth line that finally got them on the board. Crash-creaser Matt Hendricks tipped the puck into the net with an assist from Mathieu Perreault.
The third period saw a more consistent effort by the Caps (albeit too little, too late) and a nice showing by Tomas Vokoun, which included a stonewall stop on a Drew Stafford breakaway. As mentioned earlier, tripping was the call of the night and it was Patrick Kaleta’s second tripping penalty of the game that led to the Caps’ second tally. As Brooks Laich screened Ryan Miller, Alex Ovechkin blasted the puck past Miller for a 4-2 score.
Alas, that would be all the offense the Capitals could muster on a night they’d like to quickly forget. After an offseason arrival of a few fresh faces and a mid-season coaching change, there seem to be no quick fixes for the inconsistent play and lack of jump that is ailing this team. Tonight’s loss places the Caps at the 11th spot in the Eastern Conference, a lowly rank they haven’t seen in the past few years. They don’t have much time to regroup until they meet the Conference’s first place New York Rangers on Wednesday – with a gaggle of HBO cameras in tow.