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Capitals @ Sabres Recap: Caps Prevail 4-3 in Hard-Fought Shootout Win

Ovechkin scores career goal 771 and the shootout winner as the Capitals sweep the season series against the Sabres.

Washington Capitals v Buffalo Sabres Photo by Ben Green/NHLI via Getty Images

The Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabres face off tonight for the third and final time this season, with this matchup in western New York. The Capitals have lost their last two games, both on home ice, in regulation, and the Sabres have won three in a row, two in OT and one in the shootout. The Caps are wearing their home reds in Buffalo tonight because the Sabres are wearing their Heritage Classic sweaters, giving the Caps the unusual opportunity to Rock the Red away from Capital One Arena.

The Capitals have four former Sabres on their roster: Conor Sheary, Marcus Johansson, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, and Johan Larsson, who has yet to make his post-deadline debut. With that in mind, Washington’s lines looked like this tonight:

It looked as if Nic Dowd would be in tonight’s lineup after today’s morning skate, but he was not on the ice for warmups. With TJ Oshie also still out with a lower-body injury, the Capitals once again iced 11 forwards and seven defensemen. Tonight, however, Michal Kempny is the seventh blueliner. Ilya Samsonov gets the nod in net today, facing off against journeyman Dustin Tokarski at the other end of the ice for Buffalo. Alas, that means the Caps do not get to face their former teammate, Craig Anderson.

Here’s Friday night’s Plus/Minus:

Plus: Ovechkin 771. That’s it, that’s the tweet.

Minus: Tonight was unfortunately another low shot, high goal game for Ilya Samsonov. It was not all on Samsonov tonight, especially the Sabres’ first goal, but seeing the trend continue is worrisome nonetheless.

And now, nominate this for a Grammy immediately:

Twelve more notes on the game:

1. The Capitals got on the board first, 9:15 into the game, after Anthony Mantha converted on a backhand shot off a beautiful pass from Nicklas Backstrom. Tom Wilson got the play started with some excellent movement through the neutral zone before passing the puck to Backstrom, who timed his part of the tic-tac-toe sequence perfectly to send the puck to Mantha in front of the net. The combination of speedy passing and Mantha’s deke in the slot gave Dustin Tokarski no chance on the play.

Since his March 3 return from shoulder surgery, Mantha has seven points (5G, 2A) in 11 games. Additionally, with an assist on the goal, Tom Wilson has now set a new single-season career high in points with 45.

2. Jeff Skinner tied things up with a backhand shot of his own with 4:11 remaining in the first. Alex Tuch screened Ilya Samsonov perfectly in front, and Samsonov had zero eyes on the puck when it left Skinner’s stick. The Sabres getting on the board? Bad! Getting to listen to Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA” because Skinner chose it as his goal song? Great!

3. Michal Kempny took the game’s first penalty, a slashing call on Skinner, with 1:44 left on the clock in the first period. This is Kempny’s third minor penalty in two games, and this game is barely 18 minutes old. Fortunately for Kempny, Washington’s penalty kill kept Buffalo’s struggling power play off the board.

4. After Washington’s third line generated a few good chances after a solid drive down the ice, Nick Jensen called his own number and restored the Caps’ lead 4:06 into the second period. The Sabres near him gave him all the room in the world to line up his wrister, and he did not waste the opportunity. Jensen’s shot through traffic was an absolute rocket from just above the right circle that zipped past Tokarski’s glove.

This was Jensen’s fifth goal of the season, a new career high.

5. Jeff Skinner got his second goal of the night just over halfway into the second. Tage Thompson knocked John Carlson’s helmet off, forcing Carlson to leave the ice immediately and giving the Sabres a brief 5-on-4. Justin Schultz could not get to the play fast enough with the long change in the middle frame, and Skinner took advantage and scored his 26th goal of the season.

6. The Caps had trouble recovering from Skinner’s second goal and were scrambling in their own end for two and a half minutes, allowing Buffalo to generate several scoring chances with sustained pressure. It felt like it was only a matter of time before they cashed in on one, and it was Victor Olofsson who finally converted after a great pass from Casey Mittelstadt. 3-2 Sabres with 7:05 left in the second.

Coach Laviolette wisely used his timeout after this Buffalo goal, hoping to calm his team down.

7. Alex Ovechkin realized it had been five days since his last goal, so he figured 16:47 was as good a time as any to score number 771 of his career, right off an Evgeny Kuznetsov faceoff win. Marcus Johansson had great positioning on the play to give Ovechkin plenty of room to line up his shot. The puck bounced a little off the faceoff but it was no problem for Ovi, who absolutely ripped a top-shelf rocket past Tokarski.

Ovechkin has scored four of his last five goals on this faceoff play, so something is clearly working here. Also, Evgeny Kuznetsov extended his point streak to 11 games (7G, 7A) with the sole assist on the tally. All tied up again, 3-3 with 3:13 to go in the second.

8. Jeff Skinner and Garnet Hathaway took matching minor penalties at 16:59 of the second, cueing up some 4-on-4 hockey. Neither team was able to take advantage of the open ice, keeping the game tied going into second intermission.

9. Experience Capitals hockey:

10. The Caps got their first power play of the game with just 7:57 left on the clock when Mark Pysyk took a seat for interference on Nicklas Backstrom, who was slow to get up after the play. This was a huge power play opportunity for Washington, and unfortunately they let it go to waste. They struggled to get any sustained zone time until the last 20 or so seconds, but they could not convert. Still 3-3, just under six minutes to go.

11. After neither team was able to score in the final frame, the Caps and Sabres needed overtime to settle the score. Tom Wilson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and John Carlson were out there to start bonus hockey for Washington. Cody Eakin won the opening faceoff for Buffalo, and the Sabres controlled much of the play in the first few minutes of OT. Kuznetsov and Johansson both had monster shifts in the second half of OT, and Kuznetsov almost converted on a fake-out shot that just squeaked past Tokarski but did not make it to the crease. However, the score remained tied at 3-3 through five minutes of extra hockey and the game headed to the shootout.

12. The Sabres elected to go first in the skills competition. Tage Thompson scored, Nicklas Backstrom missed, Alex Tuch tried to go but he had a skate issue so he could not take the ice, Casey Mittelstadt missed, Evgeny Kuznetsov scored (and it was nasty), Alex Tuch (on attempt two) missed, and Alex Ovechkin scored to win it in the shootout.

Up next for the Caps: back to Capital One Arena to face the Devils tomorrow night at 7PM.