|Record||Goaltender||GAA / SV%|
|Washington Capitals||3-0-3||Vitek Vanecek||2.77 / .938|
|Buffalo Sabres||2-3-1||Linus Ullmark||2.77 / .903|
TLDR: Goals from Schultz, Oshie, and Backstrom force 4th consecutive overtime game, but Caps lose by a score of 4-3 in the shootout. Vanecek stops 46 of 49 shots, escape with one point in the standings.
For the 4th time in 10 days, but only the second game at home, the Washington Capitals faced the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday afternoon. The Capitals have one of the longest single-team win-streaks, as they’ve defeated the Sabres 9 straight times at home. The Caps through five games have put up 8 points with a 3-0-2 record, and for just the 3rd time in franchise history, have at least one point in each of those first five.
With Tom Wilson listed as day-to-day with a lower body injury and thus, out of the lineup, Connor McMichael made his highly anticipated NHL debut. The Capitals drafted McMichael 25th overall in the 2019 NHL Draft, and the 20-year old put up 47 goals in 52 AHL games. McMichael began his first game as the 2LW, centered by Lars Eller, and Richard Panik as 2RW. Once again, Vitek Vanecek got the start in net for Washington, and defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk also appeared in the lineup for the first time this season.
The Capitals put forth a pretty good showing in the first period, and their goaltender Vitek Vanecek was even better. Early on, Buffalo’s Eric Staal nearly started off the scoring again but Vanecek made an easy glove save. In fact, he’d been forced to make a number of great stops to keep the Sabres off the board in the first five. Connor McMichael put up a couple shots on goal, despite Buffalo tallying the majority of shots in the first (16 SOG). At the 6:58 mark of the first, a shot from defenseman Justin Schultz ended up behind Buffalo goaltender Linus Ullmark to give the Caps a 1-0 lead.
Not long after, Jakub Vrana, who has three goals already, nearly scored from the same spot Nic Dowd had on Friday. With just under five minutes left in the period, Connor McMichael was called for hooking, but luckily Washington killed off the penalty. In their first three games against the Sabres, the Caps had been assessed 10 minor penalties, and killed off nine for a 90% penalty kill rating. Buffalo outshot the Caps 16-9, but Washington led 1-0 after 20 minutes.
The middle period was eventful, with three goals being scored and five penalties being assessed. Just 83 seconds into the period, the Capitals received their first power play of the afternoon as Jake McCabe was called for tripping. Washington did not score, despite a number of great opportunities. The bottom six forwards for the Caps had been very active and advantageous. Buffalo went back on the power play at 8:20 when Zdeno Chara went off for tripping. Unfortunately, the Sabres did convert, as Colin Miller scored to make it 1-1. Not long after, Buffalo defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen was called for tripping (10:45), and just over a minute into the Caps power play, TJ Oshie scored to make it 2-1.
But then, the Sabres got another power play as Nic Dowd was called for tripping, too. Less than one minute into the power play, Victor Olofsson tallied his 3rd of the season to tie it, 2-2. With 4:14 remaining, Jonas Siegenthaler was sent to the penalty box for tripping, though the call was definitely questionable. Luckily, the Caps killed off that penalty, and the 2nd period expired with the score still tied.
Not even 60 seconds into the final frame, a shot from Sam Reinhart rang off the post behind Vanecek, nearly giving his Sabres the lead. Six minutes and three seconds in, Nic Dowd was called for his 2nd minor of the period, and at the 7:27 mark, Eric Staal did finally score to give Buffalo a 3-2 lead. The Caps got 3rd power play of the day as Brandon Montour was called for crosschecking. With Washington down by one, and up by a skater, a zero-angle shot from Nicklas Backstrom somehow ended up behind Ullmark to be the game-tying goal (9:28)
Taylor Hall was gifted an opportunity to reinstate the Sabres lead with a penalty shot after Schultz hooked him, but his shot also rang off the post, so the score stayed 3-3.
The score remained tied at three goals apiece with 67 seconds remaining. Once again, it appeared that overtime would be inevitable. Yes, again.
The Caps and Sabres would play a 5-minute stint of 3-on-3 overtime, and so both teams would fight for the extra point, though guaranteed at least one. Washington hasn’t played four consecutive overtime games since 2011. Justin Schultz had an opportunity to seal the win, but was denied by Ullmark. Backstrom and Carlson had a 2-on-1 and nearly scored, as well. But for a second consecutive game, overtime wouldn’t be enough, again, so the shootout would be the decision-maker.
Unfortunately for the Capitals, they would drop this one in the shootout as no Washington shooter would score, and so Eichel would ‘win’ it for the Sabres. Vanecek stopped 45 of 48 shots for a .938 save percentage, but drops to a 2-0-2 record.
TXHT’s Three Takeaways
- Washington won’t play the Sabres again until Feb 11th and 13th
- The Caps penalty kill was good, is now less good.
- Vitek Vanecek has stopped 92 of 99 shots vs the Sabres.
NBCSN and NBCSWA+ will be covering Capitals vs Islanders, from Capital One Arena in Washington, DC, with puck drop coming shortly after 7:00pm.
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