|Record||Goaltender||GAA / SV%|
|Washington Capitals||3-0-2||Vitek Vanecek||2.81 / .889|
|Buffalo Sabres||1-3-1||Linus Ullmark||2.77 / .906|
TLDR; Next-man up mentality pays off as the Capitals win their home-opener, and Vanecek tallies first NHL shootout win. Backstrom, Dowd, and Vrana all score in regulation, Carlson beats Ullmark in the shootout to mark 3rd straight win over the Sabres, by a score of 4-3.
On Friday evening, the Washington Capitals took on the Buffalo Sabres in their home opener at Capital One Arena. It marked the Capitals’ first home game since March 4, 2020, a span of 324 days. Heading into tonight’s match, Washington was 15-1-2 in their last 18 home openers, and the two wins of their 2-0-2 record have come against the Sabres. The relative advantage of playing on home ice, without fans, was yet to be determined.
Prior to puck-drop, Caps fans had the opportunity to participate in a Virtual ‘Rock the Red Carpet’ event, which typically takes place at Capital One Arena. Additionally, fans were able to, and will be able for all home games, enjoy in-venue warmups and pregame events with a Virtual Gameday Second Screen experience, courtesy of the Washington Capitals and Kiswe.
In 12 career home openers, Nicklas Backstrom has tallied 14 points (1G, 13A). Without Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Dmitry Orlov, Backstrom is expected to center Jakub Vrana and Tom Wilson on the top line. Vitek Vanecek got the start between the pipes, with Craig Anderson serving as back-up, as Ilya Samsonov tested positive for COVID-19
Initially, the first period was extremely fast moving, with minimal whistles and icings. Early on, just two minutes in, Sam Reinhart nearly scored to give the Sabres a 1-0 lead, but Caps goaltender Vitek Vanecek made a great stop. Washington played well to start, strong on the forecheck and tight around the net. At the 12:33 mark of the opening frame, a turnover from Zdeno Chara behind Vanecek ended up on the stick of Eric Staal who potted the puck to give Buffalo that 1-0 lead. With just under four minutes left in the period, Nicklas Backstrom tied it all up with his 3rd goal of the season.
Not long after, Conor Sheary went off for slashing, and so Buffalo received the first power play of the evening. Luckily, the Caps killed off the penalty to keep the score tied 1-1 heading into the second period.
The Sabres had another prime scoring chance when Caps defenseman John Carlson slipped up at the blue line, giving Victor Olofsson a breakaway opportunity. Thankfully, the cross-ice pass to Olofsson wasn’t a clean one, and so the score stayed 1-1. Four minutes into the period, Nic Dowd scored his 2nd of the season to give Washington a 2-1 lead.
With the assist on Dowd’s goal, John Carlson passed Dale Hunter for fifth-most assists in franchise history. The Sabres had another breakaway opportunity just beyond the 10-minute mark as Jeff Skinner skated one-on-one towards the Caps net, but Vanecek made the stop, again. But with 9:17 left, Dylan Cozens scored his first NHL goal with a ringer off the pipes and past Vanecek, to tie it 2-2. Play resumed as 4-on-4 when Jakub Vrana and Tage Thompson went off for matching minor penalties at the 9:11 mark (Hooking)(Tripping). Even with the open ice, neither the Caps nor the Sabres added to their goal totals. At the 13:07 mark, Jakub Vrana tallied his 3rd goal of the season and put up his 2nd point of the night as he potted the puck into an open net off a feed from Chara.
But then 42 seconds later, Riley Sheahan tallied his first of the season as he tied the game once again, making it 3-3. The Capitals were having a tough time allowing odd-man rushes and defensive zone turnovers. Though they hadn’t taken as many penalties as they had been, Washington wasn’t being gifted many opportunities with the man-advantage either.
The third period began with the scored tied at three goals a-piece. The Capitals went back on the penalty kill as TJ Oshie went off for hooking, and so the Sabres got yet another power play. Buffalo did not however convert on their 2nd man-advantage. Approximately halfway through the final frame, Tom Wilson suffered a lower-body injury and did not return to the Caps bench. With 6:20 left, the score was still 3-3, and extra hockey seemed inevitable once again. Jack Eichel rang a shot off the post, but luckily the puck stayed out. The game clock ticked closer to 60 seconds, and Washington struggled to transition play out of their d-zone. The Capitals received their very first power play of the game with 9.2 seconds left, as Rasmus Ristolainen went off for holding.
The Capitals would benefit from the majority of a late third period power play to begin the overtime period. For 1:45, Washington played 4-on-3. The Caps didn’t score with the extra-man, and play continued as 4-on-4 until the next whistle. For 10 seconds, the Caps and Sabres played 3-on-3, but neither scored, and so we would need a shootout.
After four rounds of Vanecek’s first career NHL shootout, the Capitals finally emerged victorious as John Carlson successfully beat Ullmark, and Vitek stopped Reinhart’s shot. Washington’s next game will be on Sunday, against the Sabres, at 3:00pm EST.
TXHT’s Three Takeaways
- Washington’s puck management in their neutral and defensive zones needs work.
- Stop allowing first career NHL goals against by the opposition.
- To lose Wilson long-term would be horrifically unfortunate, as he has been Washington’s best player.
NBCSWA, NHL Network, and MSG-Buffalo will be covering Capitals vs Sabres, from Capital One Arena in Washington, DC, with puck drop coming shortly after 3:00pm.
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