The Caps did a much better job not allowing the Vegas Golden Knights to dictate the pace of play, but still fell 4-3 to the speedy Knights on Sunday. Here's why.
The Capitals struggled to keep control of the puck giving up several turnovers, including a few in the defensive zone. Washington seemed to struggle with the Golden Knights' relentless forecheck. Vegas' first goal was the result of a Matt Niskanen turnover in the defensive zone which led to a flurry by Vegas. Niskanen got the puck back and then failed to clear it. He shot it off the wall, but it was corraled at the blue line and ended up in the back of the Caps' net. Washington also struggled through the neutral zone as they tried a lot of stretch passes that Vegas was able to read and pick off.
No one able to separate Reilly Smith from the puck
In the second period, Vegas was on the power play. Reilly Smith was fed the puck in the slot and got the quick shot off. It was saved by Philipp Grubauer. He then proceeded to shoot the puck again off the rebound and then again off the second rebound for the goal despite being surrounded by John Carlson and Jay Beagle. Someone has to get the puck or knock Smith away. He should not be able to get both rebounds.
A defensive breakdown in the 3rd period
Jonathan Marchessault skated the puck through the middle of the neutral zone with Smith on his left. Madison Bowey attempted to challenge him in the neutral zone with his stick. The way he challenged, however, left the passing lane to Smith open. Bowey needed to call for the switch with Brooks Orpik, who started the play on the left, or Orpik needed to recognize Bowey was committed to the challenge and shift right to cover Smith. Neither Bowey nor Orpik made the right play, however, leaving Smith with an open lane on net. Then he beat Grubauer short-side as it looked like the Caps' netminder was anticipating a far-side shot.
The third period
Things got off to a great start as the Caps took a 3-2 lead less than a minute in. It went downhill after that. Not only did Vegas score twice in the third to turn a one-goal deficit into a one-goal lead, but Washington was outshot 11-6. Six is not enough and 11 is too many in a contested game like this. It looked as if the Caps were hoping to shut down the Knights after taking the early third-period lead, rather than continuing to push the pace.
The Caps could not shake Buffalo for two periods, but a dominant finish on Saturday helped them pull away for a 5-1 win. Here's how they finally put away the Sabres.
A quick start
Strong starts go a long way towards helping a team in the middle of a slump. It's a confidence boost for a group in desperate need of one and the Caps got that boost on Saturday from Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov used his wheels to zip in behind the defense and score just 50 seconds into the game. Washington led 1-0 at the end of the first, just the second time in 19 games they have held a lead after the opening 20 minutes.
RELATED: SEE THE 3 STARS FROM CAPS-SABRES HERE
Andre Burakovsky snapping a second period slump
It looked in the second period like the Caps were caught trying to protect the lead again, but Andre Burakovsky woke the team back up with his incredible highlight end-to-end goal. It really looked like Buffalo was going to tie the game at one, but instead, Burakovsky extended the lead to two. Going end to end the way he did shows a player who is starting to play with some confidence, something Burakovsky has lacked for much of the season.
Ovechkin's two-goal third period
Buffalo would not go away. Sam Reinhart got the Sabres on the board just 14 seconds into the third period and suddenly the Caps found themselves in a one-goal game again. But Ovechkin ended any hopes for the comeback as he struck in the top corner of the net on the power play from the office. He would later add a deflection goal to extend the lead to 5-1, giving a scuffling Washington team the dominant win they so sorely needed.
The Capitals needed a win in the worst way and they got one, dispatching the Buffalo Sabres in dominating fashion with a 5-1 win.
Washington was locked in a tight game leading 2-0 heading into the third period when Sam Reinhart scored just 14 seconds into the period to pull Buffalo to within one. The Caps then slammed the door shut, scoring three unanswered goals to put away the Sabres.
Here are the three stars of the game.
1. Alex Ovechkin: This was career game No. 983 for Ovechkin, tying him for the franchise record for most games played with Calle Johansson. Ovechkin very fittingly celebrated the occasion with two goals. The first came on a power play goal from the office, but there was no need for a one-timer on this one. The Sabres gave him all the time he needed to aim up the shot and wrist it into the top corner.
He added a second goal late off a deflection from a John Carlson shot.
2. Evgeny Kuznetsov: To say the Caps have struggled at the start of games would be an understatement. In the last 18 games, Washington has held the lead after the first period only once. Kuznetsov made sure this game started off on the right foot as he scored just 50 seconds into the game. He turned on the jets in the neutral zone to turn the edge on Jason Pominville then easily skated around a weak, ill-advised challenge from Robin Lehner before flinging the puck into the yawning net.
It was the fastest goal to start a game by the Caps this season. It was just the start of what would be a four-point night for the Caps' center as he added three assists.
3. Andre Burakovsky: Burakovsky had the highlight of the game with his end-to-end goal in the second period to put Washington up 2-0. He looked like he was shot out of a cannon as he launched himself from the defensive zone, streaked down the center of the ice and in on net to slide the puck through the Lehner's five-hole.
Look how Burakovsky was able to slice through the Sabres' defense. Buffalo had him surrounded, but his speed caught the Sabres off-guard and they were not able to recover in time to actually slow him down.