On a night in which the Capitals celebrated Nicklas Backstrom's 1,000th game, Washington fell to the Buffalo Sabres 5-2 in regulation for the first time this season. Backstrom recorded one assist in the game.
Here is how the loss happened.
Not the same Sabres
Anyone who has been following the NHL this year knows just how bad the Sabres have been, but they have looked like a completely different team under interim coach Don Granato.
The last time the Caps played Buffalo with Ralph Krueger as head coach on March 15, Washington won 6-0 in a non-competitive game. Since then, the Caps have played Buffalo twice, winning 4-3 narrowly on April 9 and losing Thursday.
Are the Sabres suddenly a good team? No, but this is not the same Buffalo team since Granato took over, and they played a good game.
Washington has played about as well as a team can over its past two games, but the puck management that had been so good and so dominant of late just was not there on Thursday. The offense was off, the passing was off, the breakouts were off and there were far too many turnovers.
Those turnovers cost Washington as evidenced early in the second when Justin Schultz passed behind Brenden Dillon at the defensive blue line. Victor Olofsson pounced on the loose puck and wristed a shot past goalie Vitek Vanecek before the defense could recover. That goal broke a 1-1 tie and Buffalo would not relinquish the lead the rest of the game.
Officially, Washington was credited with 15 giveaways compared to Buffalo's five.
You can't say enough about the job Vitek Vanecek has done this season. He has completely exceeded expectations and has proven to be a reliable option in net beside Ilya Samsonov. But sometimes a goalie just doesn't have it and on Thursday, Vanecek didn't have it.
As mentioned, the puck management in front of Vanecek was not great. He also got beaten by a deflection by Sam Reinhart on the game's first goal. Overall, however, Vanecek could not come up with the big saves when needed and ultimately was pulled in the second period after giving up four goals on 21 shots.
The second period
The second period has been, by far, the Caps' best this season with a goal differential of +24. On Thursday, however, Washington was outscored 3-1, allowing the Sabres to take control of the game in a period in which the Caps are typically at their best.
About four minutes after Olofsson gave Buffalo the lead, Casey Mittelstadt scored a shorthanded goal to make it 3-1. Schultz pinched at the blue line and Dylan Cozens was able to get it past him up to Mittelstadt who had left the zone in anticipation of Cozens winning the puck battle.
Anthony Mantha scored his second goal in as many games with his new team on a delayed penalty, but Anders Bjork responded soon after to restore the two-goal lead. He fired a rolling puck that fooled Vanecek to the blocker side.