Alex Ovechkin scores winning goal against the Sabres
Capitals coach Adam Oates promised his team that if it played a game similar to Friday's loss at New Jersey, then he would be fine no matter the result going forward.
The process against the Devils was the correct one, Oates said. Follow that blueprint and not even 10 losses in a row would shake his confidence. Washington's players followed that advice in a 3-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday afternoon at Verizon Center.
Joel Ward, defenseman John Erskine and star winger Alex Ovechkin all scored for the Caps, who became the last NHL team to win a game this season. Goalie Michal Neuvirth helped with 22 saves. Ovechkin's tally -- a one-timer on the power play after a pass from teammate Mike Green at 5:11 of the third period -- held up as the game-winner.
Washington (1-3-1, three points) now has 120 minutes of hockey under Oates it can feel reasonably proud of. The Caps had rallied from two goals down against New Jersey to force overtime. They committed just two penalties against Buffalo, killed both of them and converted on that power-play chance. For the first time this season their effort on special teams wasn't a disaster.
"We still thought we did a lot of great things and then we carried it over to tonight," forward Troy Brouwer said. "Even at the beginning of the game, we had our first tough shift, but we were able to pick it up right away, get some good momentum and then carry it on throughout the rest of the game."
Buffalo scored first on a goal by Tyler Ennis at 9:34 of the first period. Washington answered at 16:02 of the first. Jason Chimera fired a bad-angle pass on goal, and the rebound smacked off goalie Ryan Miller. Ward crashed past two Buffalo defenders and poked the puck home for his third goal of the season. That tied the game at 1-1.
It remained so until Erskine put the Caps ahead. He faked a slap shot near the blue line, took two strides to his left and put a shot toward the net. It deflected off Sabres forward Cody Hodgson and past Miller for the 2-1 lead. It was Erskine's first goal since May 4, 2011, in Game 4 of a second-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Tampa Bay Lightning. That was the final game of that season for Washington.
"I was gonna unleash the big cannon first, and then he got in the lane, so I just threw a little muffin and good stuff happens," Erskine said.
The end of the second was the first time the Caps held a lead after a period all season. That was extended with an early power play in the third. Mike Ribeiro threaded a pass to Green up top. He took advantage of a disorganized Buffalo penalty kill by finding Ovechkin on the left side all alone. He hammered home his first goal of the season with a wicked one-timer past Miller.
Marcus Foligno's goal at 10:13 of the third gave the Sabres a chance down just 3-2, but they failed to convert after pulling Miller in the final minute for an extra attacker.