Capitals' winning streak ends at six on Thomas Vanek's overtime goal

By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 14, 2010; 12:40 AM

BUFFALO - Consistently this season, the Washington Capitals' second period has been their strongest. Saturday night against the Buffalo Sabres, it proved to be their undoing.

The Capitals took careless penalties and allowed the struggling Sabres, who entered the contest without a win on home ice, to pin them in their own zone. The momentum of the contest swung so that even when the game drifted to overtime, Buffalo still held an emotional edge. With a minute remaining in the extra session, Sabres sniper Thomas Vanek scored his second goal of the contest for a 3-2 Buffalo victory that snapped the Capitals' winning streak at six games.

"I thought the second period was our worst period of hockey that maybe I've seen since I've been here," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "I'm really upset about how we played and how we came out [in the second]. You talk about coming from behind all year and you finally get the lead and you're supposed to put the pedal down then and just keep going after them and break their will. We sat back, took penalties and played really bad."

In something of a rare event through the first 17 games of the season, the Capitals came out with a strong first period. They were intent on testing Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller in his first game back after missing the previous six contests with a knee injury.

Eight minutes in, Karl Alzner beat Miller with a shot from the point to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead. It was just the fifth time this season that the Capitals have scored the first goal, but the 2010 Vezina Trophy winner didn't let things get out of hand.

Late in the frame, Alex Ovechkin streaked into the offensive zone on a breakaway with a chance to give Washington a two-goal lead on perhaps the best scoring opportunity of the game. But Miller didn't buy any of the dekes the Washington captain tried to sell and stopped Ovechkin cold, bringing the home crowd to their feet. It was Ovechkin's only shot of the game.

"I thought if Alex had scored on the breakaway it might have been a different game," said Boudreau, whose Capitals return home to Verizon Center on Sunday, when they host the Atlanta Thrashers.

The start of the second period marked the beginning of 20 minutes in which play was conducted almost exclusively in the Capitals' end, beginning when Jason Chimera was called for cross-checking less than four minutes into the frame. Arguing with the referees earned Chimera an additional infraction for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Even after Washington escaped the penalty unscathed, it rarely visited Miller's end of the ice. The Capitals registered just one shot in the first half of the frame after out-shooting Buffalo 13-6 in the first period.

Just past the 10-minute mark of the second, Sabres defenseman Steve Montador tied the contest at 1-1 with a blast from the point that beat Braden Holtby, who was screened on the play.

"We just didn't do any of the things that we needed to," John Erskine said. "We weren't working hard enough, we were getting out-battled all over and it showed. It was the worst period we played all year and that's just unacceptable."

Tomas Fleischmann earned a double-minor for high sticking with four minutes remaining in the second, and 24 seconds into the man advantage the Sabres took advantage. The puck ricocheted off several bodies in front of the net it wound up on the stick of Vanek, who shot into a wide open net to make it 2-1. By the end of the period, Buffalo outshot the Capitals 11-4.

"They played good, they got the puck deep and they were forechecking good," Nicklas Backstrom said. "We weren't quick enough with the puck, I think, and that caused us trouble. . . .When [Boudreau] changed the lines up it was a big wakeup call."

Unhappy with the stagnant offense, Boudreau shook up all four of his forward combinations. The alterations seemed to give a Washington spark and one of the freshly assembled lines - with Chimera, Backstrom and Alexander Semin - paid dividends just over seven minutes in.

Backstrom faked a slap shot that fooled both Sabres defenseman Shaone Morrisonn, a former Capital, and Miller before he sent a wrist shot into the goal just below the crossbar to tie the score at 2-2.

But regardless of knotting the score and forcing overtime, Washington never wrestled the game away from the Sabres after the second period. Miller stopped 23 of 25 Washington shots.

To score in overtime, Vanek bypassed defenseman John Carlson then avoided a poke check from Holtby, who made 24 saves in the second NHL start of his career.

"We got the goal. We got the point. I'm never satisfied without the two but at the same time as long as it's not a trend and we're ready to bounce back [Sunday]. If that's as bad as we can be then that's good."

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