Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin (8) celebrates his game-winning goal over the Buffalo Sabres with Steve Oleksy (61) Mike Ribeiro (9) and Nicklas Backstrom (19) during the shootout. (Gary Wiepert / Associated Press) Alex Ovechkin (8) celebrates his game-winning goal over Buffalo  with Steve Oleksy (61) Mike Ribeiro (9) and Nicklas Backstrom (19). (Gary Wiepert / Associated Press)

The opening frame in Buffalo Saturday night earned the dubious honor of being dubbed the “worst” first period of the season by multiple Capitals and there’s no reason to argue with their assessment. They only allowed one goal against but were out of sorts, unable to break out of their own zone with any semblance of crispness and struggling to maintain possession at every turn.

For Coach Adam Oates to turn the Capitals around he needed to remind them that a lot of the problems they were having early in Buffalo were a result of their own play, not their opponent’s.

“The stuff that we talk about every day that slows us down is our execution. It’s one thing when you have guys bearing down on you where you can’t execute and another thing where you have time to make a play and we don’t. That’s what it was in the first period,” Oates said. “It wasn’t so much Buffalo. Yeah OK they came and they played but it was more us. We had opportunities to make good decisions and make plays and we didn’t.”

There was gradual improvement in the second. After Ville Leino scored early in the middle stanza, Washington got on the board with a power play goal from Alex Ovechkin that made it 2-1 and started to establish its game.

Leino scored again to give Buffalo a two-goal lead once more before the period was out, but the Capitals were starting to get back on course. They just needed to take it further in the third.

“We got a little bit of [crap] from Oatesy,” Green said. “We didn’t play well at the start of the game and he addressed what we needed to do in the third period – we went out and did it. It was a matter of confidence, character and pulling through.”

Said Oates: “You’ve still got to remind the guys that the reason we’re behind is because of us, not so much what they did. You’ve got to be able to play. Nobody’s perfect. It was a little bit of a wakeup call, make sure that we bounce back.”

When Troy Brouwer scored shorthanded 2:43 into the third, the Capitals knew that a comeback to negate the horrid start was within reach.

“It was big. We knew we need to score goal, one goal to get momentum,” Ovechkin said. “We knew we could score two goals or three goals, we just need that one.”

Said Karl Alzner: “The fact that it came at such a crucial time was huge it just kind of swung everything in our favor.”

The third period showed the Capitals on their game. They were aggressive, played with strong puck support, dictated tempo and established several extended offensive possessions.

They were ultimately rewarded when Mike Green’s shot clanked off the left post and in to tie the game with 39. 2 seconds remaining in regulation — more on Green’s goal tomorrow before the second of back-to-back games in Philadelphia — allowing them to force overtime and capture two points with a 4-3 shootout win.

“These are the type of games that we are going to need to steal to make a playoff push,” Green said. “There’s no room for error, we have to win these games. That’s the bottom line. We know that it’s just a matter of us having better starts and playing a full 60 minutes. When we do that we give ourselves a chance.”

A quick note heading into Sunday’s game at Philadelphia: Braden Holtby didn’t have his sharpest night stopping 20 of the 23 shots he faced but it’s still uncertain which goaltender will start against the Flyers. Oates didn’t name a starter after the win in Buffalo in part because he wants to see how Michal Neuvirth feels after taking a puck off his mask in Saturday’s morning skate.

“Nobody’s perfect. I don’t think he was perfect tonight but he stayed in the game and battled for us,” Oates said of Holtby. “We’ll see. See how Neuvy feels in the morning. He was OK to back up we’ll see how he feels in the morning. I want to put the guy that’s ready to play in tomorrow.”