On Friday, the Capitals’ 6-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres at Capital One Arena was another example of how they find ways to earn two points. The Capitals (10-2-3) were dominant in the first 11 minutes, opening a 4-0 lead behind Jakub Vrana’s two goals, Brendan Leipsic’s first as a Capital and Chandler Stephenson’s second of the season.
It was the kind of start the Capitals had hoped for, with the team remaining in sync after its longest road trip of the season.
“I think our work ethic has been very high in all areas this year, and they want to get better,” Coach Todd Reirden said. “They want to try to figure out how to have success as a group, and individually they want to improve. I’m fortunate to have this team.”
Before the Capitals improved to 7-0-1 in their past eight games, forward Tom Wilson said Friday that the trip was a chance for the players to bond and that led to positive results. They were hoping those good feelings would continue at home, where the Capitals had won just two of their first five games (2-1-2).
With a flurry of high-quality goals, the Capitals got off to the kind of impressive start they were seeking. Vrana got behind the defense a little more than six minutes in and headed straight for Buffalo goaltender Linus Ullmark. Vrana’s shot beat Ullmark, and the rout was on.
The second goal came from Stephenson at 6:59 — just 42 seconds after Vrana’s tally — on an expertly executed three-on-one. Leipsic soared down the left wing and made a cross-ice pass to Travis Boyd, who dumped the puck to a trailing Stephenson at the front of the net, where he beat Ullmark with ease.
Vrana’s second goal came from the right circle at 9:29, after a pass from the point by defenseman Michal Kempny, who had three primary assists. (Kempny has three goals and five assists in seven games this season.) Vrana said “of course” he was seeking his first career hat trick, but a stellar save by Ullmark in the third period denied the 23-year-old that opportunity.
Leipsic scored the final goal of the first period 75 seconds after Vrana’s second. Leipsic entered the game without a goal despite a handful of high-quality chances.
In an encouraging sign for the Capitals, their shuffled fourth line of Leipsic, Boyd and Stephenson showed chemistry early, even with Nic Dowd (lower body) out of the lineup. Goaltender Braden Holtby called the fourth line’s production “phenomenal.”
Dowd, whom Reirden said is day-to-day, was injured in Washington’s 4-3 overtime win at Toronto on Tuesday. It is uncertain whether he will be ready for the Capitals’ game Sunday night against visiting Calgary, but if not, Boyd has been strong as a replacement. After posting two primary assists Friday, Boyd has three assists in three games with the Capitals since being recalled from their American Hockey League affiliate in Hershey, Pa., when Richard Panik (upper body) was put on long-term injured reserve.
“Our team has grown, and people are taking advantage of opportunities and making it very difficult for coaches to make lineup decisions, so that’s a good thing,” Reirden said.
The Capitals showed off their offensive prowess in the game’s early moments, but turnovers at the blue line forced Holtby to make several strong saves in the latter part of the first period. Holtby, who had 16 saves in the period, finished with 29. He has continued to be the wall Washington has needed since he let in three goals on three shots against Colorado on Oct. 14. His record over his past six starts is 5-0-1.
“When things happen to not go his way, he doesn’t hope for a miracle to come out of it or [say], ‘I think I’ll get out of this,’ ” Reirden said. “He goes back and works twice as hard as he was before, and that is a major credit to who he is as a person and as a winner and as a competitor.”
The Sabres scored their lone goal, by Henri Jokiharju, at 10:40 of the second period to make it 4-1, but they couldn’t get any closer. Wilson, who also had two assists, scored his fifth goal of the season at 16:53 to give the Capitals a 5-1 advantage. T.J. Oshie scored the final goal at 13:43 of the third period, a tap-in at the front of the net and his eighth of the season.
“Felt good to get all four lines out there and everyone contributing,” Wilson said. “. . . Everyone chipped in and helped get the win.”