Sabres hang on to beat Capitals
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Washington Capitals’ struggles in the back end of back-to-back games worked in the Buffalo Sabres’ favor on Tuesday night.
The Sabres (5-8-2) got an early jump on the Capitals on their way to a 3-1 victory.
Evander Kane had two goals and Benoit Pouliot scored the game-winner on a highlight-reel effort early in the third period.
It was a pleasant change of pace for the Sabres, who have struggled this season and had lost three of their previous four games.
“We should use this game as a confidence booster,” said Sabres center Jack Eichel. “Whether or not they had a back-to-back or not, we beat a really good hockey team. And we needed to know that we could play with anybody.”
Pouliot’s game-winner came 3:22 into the third. Picking up the puck deep in his own end, Pouliot raced down the ice and deked by a defender inside the blue line before ripping a wrist shot past goaltender Philipp Grubauer to the glove side.
The free-agent addition is hitting his stride for the Sabres with five goals in his last seven games.
“Him getting an opportunity and taking advantage of his opportunity says a lot about Ben,” Sabres coach Phil Housley said.
Robin Lehner made 24 saves for Buffalo.
Alex Ovechkin scored for the Capitals (8-7-1), who are winless in the second half of back-to-back games this season (0-4-0). Washington also had a three-game win streak come to a close.
“Even if we played last night, we should keep that momentum from the night before,” Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom said. “We had an all right start but they outshot us. I think after two periods we were still in it. We should’ve done something better. We need more goals.”
The Capitals were disappointed to once again let down Grubauer between the pipes. The backup goaltender has gotten little offensive support from the rest of his team in five starts and has a record of 0-4-1. Grubauer made 29 saves.
“I don’t know what to tell you. I‘m sick of (expletive) losing,” Grubauer said. “They put a couple pucks on net early. It’s all I can do, worry about the puck and stop the next puck and give the guys a chance to win and go from situation to situation.”
Buffalo dominated the Capitals to open the game, outshooting Washington 15-4 in the first period, but it took until the second period for that to translate on the scoreboard.
Kane opened the scoring 2:39 into the second following a setup by Eichel. After a faceoff in the Washington end, Eichel forced a turnover and found Kane beside the net for Kane’s eighth goal of the season.
Ovechkin evened the score with 2:16 left in the second on a terrific snipe. Devante Smith-Pelly spotted Ovechkin moving in the slot with speed, and Ovechkin beat Lehner after continuing to his right.
With the goal, Ovechkin has 43 points in 43 career games against the Sabres.
Kane added an empty-net goal with 20 seconds remaining.
Lehner was solid between the pipes for Buffalo after being pulled midway through the first period of Buffalo’s loss to Dallas on Saturday. In Saturday’s game, Lehner allowed three goals on seven shots.
Against Washington, Lehner’s best stop came with seven minutes remaining in the second period. The goaltender deftly moved from left to right to stay with Smith-Pelly and stop his scoring opportunity.
“I think we played really well today and it was the best defensive game by our forwards I’ve seen so far this season,” Lehner said.
NOTES: D Rasmus Ristolainen (upper body), D Matt Tennyson and LW Matt Moulson were scratched for the Sabres. Ristolainen didn’t practice Monday but is considered day-to-day. ... Sabres D Zach Bogosian is also nearing a return as his status was recently changed from week-to-week to day-to-day. ... RW Brett Connolly, D Madison Bowey and C Liam O‘Brien were scratched for the Capitals. Connolly (upper body) has missed six games. ... This was the first of three meetings this season. The next meeting takes place on Feb. 19 in Buffalo.