Capitals squander early lead in Buffalo, end up routed in 6-2 loss

Capitals squander early lead in Buffalo, end up routed in 6-2 loss

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

BUFFALO — The Washington Capitals grabbed the lead on their first shot Tuesday night at KeyBank Center. The tide turned quickly after that.

The Buffalo Sabres had tilted the ice in their favor by the midway point of the first period, and once they took the lead, they didn’t look back. Washington let its promising start fade — then saw it get completely extinguished — in a 6-2 loss, its third in a row.

“We gave up too many chances against, chasing the game the whole night,” center Dylan Strome said. “We get a lead and then just squander it away. Obviously disappointing tonight. Would’ve liked to get some ground [in the playoff race], but it is what it is. One game, just move on — but not a good game, obviously, from us.”

Charlie Lindgren allowed six goals on 31 shots and was pulled with 14:27 left. (Darcy Kuemper stopped all four shots in relief.) Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen made 23 saves for Buffalo.

Washington (36-28-10, 82 points) still holds the Eastern Conference’s second (and final) wild-card spot and remains one point behind Philadelphia (83 points) for third place in the Metropolitan Division with two games in hand. But Detroit (82), the New York Islanders (81) and Pittsburgh (79) are all within three points of Washington.

The Capitals survived a demanding March schedule littered with teams heading to the playoffs. Including this matchup with the Sabres, five of Washington’s next six games were against teams sitting outside the postseason picture. In theory, Tuesday’s game was the start of an opportunity for Washington to solidify its playoff position after weeks of desperately hanging on to the bubble.

And when defenseman Martin Fehervary beat Luukkonen from the point on the Capitals’ first shot at 2:46, the silence in KeyBank Center only emphasized the significance of the visitors’ early lead.

“We put the puck behind them and forechecked them,” Fehervary said. “I think that was the key. Once we didn’t do it, we turned the puck over a lot, and then it just got back on us. They’ve got a couple skilled forwards, and it’s just hard to be all the time in the [defensive] zone.”

Not long after his goal, Fehervary made a highlight-reel play at the other end of the ice, tracking down the Sabres’ Alex Tuch on a breakaway without allowing a shot attempt. That was the first time the Sabres’ pace proved to be a problem for the Capitals, but it wouldn’t be the last.

“We just couldn’t handle their speed and skill,” Coach Spencer Carbery said. “Against a team as good as they are in that department, if we can’t defend that and do a better job, it’s going to be really, really difficult for us.”

Zemgus Girgensons deflected a point shot by Rasmus Dahlin past Lindgren to tie the score at 15:42, and just 68 seconds later, JJ Peterka put Buffalo (36-35-5) ahead with a wrist shot from below the goal line on the power play. Washington mustered just four shots on goal in the first period; the Sabres had 13.

The Capitals showed more fight to begin the second, but they couldn’t find a way to connect on promising offensive chances. It felt as though Washington had to work twice as hard to generate half as much as the Sabres — and that was driven home by Peterka’s second goal at 10:54. As the Capitals looked to exit their defensive zone, Tuch forced winger Nicolas Aube-Kubel into a turnover and the puck skittered to Peterka, who was perfectly positioned to skate in alone on Lindgren and lift a shot over the netminder’s right shoulder.

“It seems like when we try to take one rush offensively and get a chance and cheat for a chance,” Strome said, “it seems like they get three or four on us coming back the other way.”

Strome got Washington back within a goal at 19:14 with a rebound finish on the power play, but when the Capitals couldn’t convert on a short-lived power play to open the third period, their faint hopes quickly faded entirely.

“Just not good enough,” Strome said. “They probably should’ve been up more in the second. Chuckie made like 10 saves that were incredible. Just not good enough hockey. They play a game where they obviously take some risks and take some chances, and we don’t play that way. We tried to play that way for a little bit of it, and we were just cheating on offense — came back and bit us.”

Winger Max Pacioretty was sent to the box for holding during Washington’s power play, and when the Sabres went on the man advantage, Dahlin extended Buffalo’s lead to 4-2 at 3:03. Goals from Tage Thompson and Tuch just 45 seconds apart chased Lindgren from the net — Carbery said the decision was made to “give Kuemps some reps and give Chuckie the last 15 minutes off” — and locked in the Sabres’ stranglehold.

When Washington loses, it often gets ugly, and this game was no different. The Capitals entered with a goal differential of minus-31; that mark grew to minus-35. They host Pittsburgh on Thursday, another game against a team outside the playoff picture but one that suddenly carries more weight for Washington.

“We’ve got to find a way to keep the games close,” Strome said. “I feel like we play better in those environments and those atmospheres. That’s all we can do. Obviously, rivalry game against Pittsburgh on Thursday and then back-to-back against Carolina [on Friday]. Doesn’t get any easier from here.”

Note: Winger T.J. Oshie missed the game with an undisclosed injury. Oshie did not practice Monday; he participated in Washington’s optional morning skate Tuesday before being ruled out.

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