By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
The third game of the Bruce Boudreau Era didn't go nearly as smoothly as the first two.
The Washington Capitals came out with energy last night against the Buffalo Sabres, and for a while appeared capable of beating one of the league's hottest teams. But turnovers led to two second-period goals for the Jochen Hecht-led Sabres, who skated off with a 3-1 victory.
The loss ended a two-game winning streak for the Capitals under Boudreau, who replaced Glen Hanlon on Thursday, and kept them at the bottom of the league standings with 17 points in 24 games. The Sabres, meantime, claimed their fifth consecutive victory to continue their rebound from a bad start.
"We made some bad turnovers that resulted in some goals against," Capitals defenseman Tom Poti said. "We played pretty well in the first. We took it to them for a while. But we kind of gave it right back to them in the second."
After falling behind on a bad-bounce goal by Hecht (two goals and an assist) in the first period, the Capitals were given hope when Alex Ovechkin scored his 17th, and perhaps prettiest, goal of the season 49 seconds into the second to tie the score.
The rest of the pivotal middle period belonged to the Sabres.
Daniel Paille stole the puck from Michael Nylander in front of the Capitals' goal, then zipped a pass to Hecht, who tapped it past goaltender Olie Kolzig (25 saves) at 8 minutes 7 seconds to put Buffalo ahead 2-1.
A second Nylander turnover a few minutes later helped the Sabres seize control. Nylander attempted a drop pass to linemate Tomas Fleischmann at the Buffalo blueline. But the center's pass was off target and Fleischmann over-skated it.
Hecht picked it up and led a two-on-one in the other direction. With only John Erskine back for the Capitals, Hecht passed to Jason Pominville, who fired it past Kolzig to put the Sabres ahead 3-1.
"When we turn it over deep and we're caught flatfooted, and they're coming down with speed, it's bang, bang and it's in the net," Kolzig said.
Of the turnovers, Nylander said: "It's been there throughout the season. We're getting better. But we need to play simple hockey. . . . We have to clean this up. We've been playing very good the two games before this one."
It didn't help that the Capitals' offense, which racked up nine goals in Boudreau's first two games, wasn't able to squeeze more than a single shot past Ryan Miller (30 saves).
Washington's power play came up empty, going 0 for 3 after scoring on 4 of 7 opportunities in Boudreau's first two games, a 4-3 overtime decision in Philadelphia and a 5-2 win over Carolina.
"We had two solid games where we were really feeling good about ourselves and then to shoot ourselves in the foot is demoralizing," Kolzig said.
The stakes are already high for the Capitals, who need a hot streak like the Sabres' if they're to climb back into the Eastern Conference playoff race. That's if it's not already too late.
"We have to put a streak together here to get ourselves out of this hole," Kolzig said.
Washington winger Alexander Semin returned after missing the past two games with the sprained right ankle that has dogged him since training camp, but his effectiveness was limited because his timing appeared to be slightly off, Boudreau said. Semin recorded three shots on goal but had a rating of minus-2, same as his linemates Fleischmann and Nylander.
"I've never seen him play," Boudreau said. "I have to believe he's going to be better."
Unlike the previous two games, in which the Capitals took a 3-0 lead, last night they fell behind in the first period after an unfortunate bounce.
Hecht took a pass from defenseman Brian Campbell and circled the Capitals' net with speed. When he reached the other side, he flipped a backhanded pass through the crease, but it hit a player's leg in front and wound up behind Kolzig at 10:55.
The Sabres took that 1-0 lead into the second period, although it didn't last long thanks to Ovechkin's team-leading 17th goal.
The all-star winger took a pass from Steve Eminger deep in the Washington zone, then blasted down the rink. He put the puck around Campbell, gathered it in the slot and got off a quick shot. Miller stopped it, but Ovechkin was there for the rebound.
"We played as hard as [Buffalo] and as good as them," Boudreau said, "just not as smart as them."