By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 21, 2011; 12:14 AM
BUFFALO - It would have been easy for the Washington Capitals to grow exponentially frustrated by their inability to score on four power plays in the first period. They created quality scoring chances that perhaps a season ago would have been guaranteed to cross the goal line, but Buffalo Sabres all-star goaltender Ryan Miller made a series of highlight-worthy saves to keep the Capitals at bay.
When Washington's fifth chance on the power play came in the third period, the Capitals stuck to their plan of getting as many pucks on net as possible and finally, with less than 10 minutes remaining in regulation, converted to take the lead. Marcus Johansson deflected a shot by Mathieu Perreault for the decisive tally in Washington's 2-1 win over the Sabres on Sunday afternoon at HSBC Arena, where the Capitals put together a solid - even if not pretty - 60-minute game.
The win gives the Capitals 72 points and ensured that they would remain in fifth place in the Eastern Conference heading into a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday night, which will conclude Washington's five-game trip.
"We talked about it going into the third that we had to have the will to persevere and the confidence that we could do it," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Up until about five games ago we were one of the best third-period clubs in the league in giving up goals and we started giving them up and consequently we lost four out of five. But I thought they dug deep and they blocked shots and they did what they had to do tonight, and it was a hard-earned two points."
In three of the past five games leading into the contest in Buffalo, the Capitals entered a third period with a tie score only to give up a combined seven goals and lose each outing in the final 20 minutes. Starting the third period in a 1-1 tie with the Sabres, though, Washington proved it could keep calm and stick to the game plan to make sure it wouldn't lose control of the contest late.
When Sabres defenseman and former Capital Shaone Morrisonn was whistled for interference against Matt Hendricks with just less than 11 minutes remaining in regulation, Washington received the break it needed.
Alex Ovechkin skated into the Buffalo zone, drawing three Sabres to the right side of the ice with him and let go a shot that resulted in a rebound to Perreault in the left faceoff circle. Perreault simply wanted to get a shot on net, but Johansson was able to get in the way and redirect the puck past Miller, who finished with 37 saves, to give Washington a 2-1 lead 10 minutes 20 seconds into the period. The Capitals allowed the Sabres only five shots on goal after taking the lead.
"I think I just tried to get out of the way and it hit me," said Johansson, whose goal was the first on the power play in his NHL career. "I think we got some chances on the power play all night. We just couldn't get it in, as has happened before. But we just kept working all game, and when we work like that, I think the goals are going to come, and we got what we needed."
There may be no greater trouble in the Capitals' previous 35 games than their ineffectiveness on the power play. In the past 10 games counting Sunday's win, Washington is 4 for 33 on the power play. But on the current trip, which began Feb. 14 in Phoenix, there have been more sustained opportunities and a slowly rebuilding confidence in the unit.
In the first period Washington had the four power plays, including 1:34 of a five-on-three but couldn't manage to beat Miller. The best chance in that six minutes of time on the man-advantage in the opening period was a shot by Nicklas Backstrom on the doorstep, but the Sabres' workhorse made one of many spectacular saves to prevent Washington from gaining early momentum.
Despite being unable to crack Miller on the power play, the Capitals kept pouring shots on the Buffalo net through the second period. On a dump-in by Hendricks, the puck took a strange bounce off the end boards and landed in the slot, where Perreault shot it past Miller. It was Perreault's first goal in eight games.
"We had so many chances, and we just kept thinking it had to be a matter of time until we got something," said Perreault, who with an assist on the game-winner also posted his first two-point effort in eight games.
Buffalo tied the score less than three minutes after Perreault's goal as Jason Pominville scored on the Sabres' first shot on their first power play of the game. That tally was all Capitals goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who finished with 28 saves, would allow.
Capitals note: Mike Green missed a fourth consecutive contest because of inner-ear trauma and has missed five out of the past six games since he was struck by a puck on Feb. 6 against Pittsburgh. "It's all precautionary," Boudreau said before the Buffalo game. "He felt great [Saturday], practiced through the whole practice. We just feel it's not worth him getting another hit when we don't play until Friday [after the trip ends Monday night]."