An NHL routine gone missing for 262 days made an overdue return Sunday: Alex Ovechkin scored a goal, and the Washington Capitals won.
Like old times. The two-time league MVP nailed a one-timer from the left circle on a power play, skated a few feet, bent his left knee and unleashed that familiar downward celebratory fi st pump. He then collected the customary row of high-fives as he skated past the Capitals bench.
And, naturally, it proved to be the decisive goal in the game, coming with 14:49 remaining in a 3-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres. The Capitals hadn’t won — and Ovechkin hadn’t scored — since May 9, 2012, during a playoff series against the New York Rangers.
“We finally win,” Ovechkin said. “So it’s much, much better for us right now. No pressure [on] our shoulders.”
Joel Ward scored his third goal of the season, John Erskine got his first since the 2011 playoffs, and Michal Neuvirth made 22 saves for the Capitals, who had opened with four consecutive losses for the first time since 1993-94. The sluggish start — which included far too many needless penalties and defensive lapses — led players and new coach Adam Oates, a former All-American at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. to openly question the team’s work ethic.
Not so on Sunday. The Capitals went to the penalty box only twice, and didn’t allow a power-play goal for the first time this season. After the final whistle, the players gathered at center ice and raised their sticks to the fans, a fi tting showing of thanks from the last team in the league to get a win. It was also Oates’ first as an NHL head coach.
“I was kind of hoping it would be sooner,” Oates said, “but I’m glad.”
Ovechkin’s goal gave Washington a 3-1 lead. Marcus Foligno put in a rebound with 9:47 remaining to pull the Sabres within one, but Neuvirth and the Capitals survived Buffalo’s final push for a tying goal.
Ovechkin should have had a second goal in the final minute, but he hit the post of an empty net after the Sabres had pulled Ryan Miller for an extra skater. Nevertheless, Ovechkin looks more comfortable now that he’s back on the left wing. He was on the right side for the fi rst time in his career for most of the first three games, an experiment by Oates that’s been shelved, for now.
Tyler Ennis scored in the fi rst period, and Miller made 27 saves for the Sabres, who have lost three straight after opening the season with a pair of wins.
Buffalo played without left wing Thomas Vanek, who had been on the ice for all 11 goals in Buffalo’s first four games. Vanek sat out with a muscle strain, sustained in the loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday, and was replaced by Nathan Gerbe on the top line with Cody Hodgson and Jason Pominville.
The Capitals had led for only 2:32 all season before Erskine’s secondperiod goal. . . .
The Sabres entered the game as by far the worst faceoff team in the league and got even worse, winning only 20 of 53 draws (38 percent) against the Capitals.
Buffalo 1 0 1—2 Washington 1 1 1—3
First Period—1, Buffalo, Ennis 1 (Ott, Stafford), 9:34. 2, Washington, Ward 3 (Chimera, Ribeiro), 16:02.
Second Period—3, Washington, Erskine 1 (Ward, Chimera), 3:18. Third Period—4, Washington, Ovechkin 1 (Green, Ribeiro), 5:11 (pp). 5, Buffalo, Foligno 1 (Kaleta, Sekera), 10:13. Shots on Goal—Buffalo 10-6-8—24. Washington 13-7-10—30. Power-play opportunities—Buffalo 0 of 2, Washington 1 of 3. Goalies—Buffalo, Miller 2-2-0 (30 shots-27 saves). Washington, Neuvirth 1-1-1 (24-22). A—18,506 (18,506). T—2:22. Referees—Ghislain Hebert, Stephen Walkom. Linesmen—Derek Amell, Brad Kovachik.