Thomas Vanek scored the game-winning goal in overtime – his second goal of the game – to lift the Buffalo Sabres over the Washington Capitals by a score of 3-2 Saturday night in Buffalo and give the Sabres their first win on home ice this season.
Vanek put together a sensational one-man effort that began in the neutral zone to break a 2-2 tie in overtime. Vanek gathered the puck in the neutral zone and circled back around towards the Capitals’ net with two defenders standing in his way between him and Capitals’ netminder Braden Holtby.
Vanek won a one-on-one battle with Washington defenseman John Carlson in the high slot – Vanek faked going to the outside towards the right wing, Carlson whiffed on a poke-check and Vanek sidestepped Carlson to the inside towards the goal mouth. Carlson’s fellow defenseman, Karl Alzner, was in no position to try to stop Vanek, which left Holtby to try to stonewall Vanek. Holtby whiffed on a poke-check and Vanek buried the winner by skating from right to left along the goal mouth. It was Vanek’s sixth goal of the year.
The goal meant that Buffalo improved to 6-9-3 overall (15 points, 1-6-1 on home ice), while Washington went to 12-4-1 (25 points.)
The overtime winner capped off quite an effort by Vanek, who scored the second goal of the game for the Sabres, too. Jordon Leopold put a slap shot on net late in the second period during a Buffalo power play, and Vanek jammed away at it in front as it deflected around the goal mouth. Vanek put it away to give the Sabres a 2-1 lead during a second period to remember for Buffalo.
After Washington controlled the first period and came away with a 1-0 lead – the Capitals seemed energized right out of the gate and Buffalo struggled to maintain any sort of offensive rhythm – Buffalo dominated the second period, shifting the momentum of the game. The Sabres came out of the period with a 2-1 lead courtesy of Vanek and a slap shot from Steve Montador at the 10:10 mark of the second.
In the second period, the Sabres won most of the puck battles along the boards in Washington’s zone, hemming the Capitals in their defensive zone. Buffalo also did a terrific job of creating traffic in front of Holtby, a trend that continued into the third period and overtime. Buffalo became the team with more energy in the second period, out-shooting the Capitals, 11-4, in the frame.
Play in the second period forced Capitals’ coach Bruce Boudreau to shuffle his lines, splitting up Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin, a trio that can often be a lethal combination for opposing defenses. Buffalo’s play also meant that Washington’s high scoring threats were busy trying to defend the Sabres rather than scoring on Ryan Miller, whose workload decreased from the 13 shots he faced in the first period.
In fact, Buffalo did a good job of keeping the Capitals’ threats in check for most of the game. Ovechkin only recorded one shot; Semin, three; and Mike Green, one. Backstrom did score a goal, but to only allow one goal among those four players can’t leave the Sabres unhappy.
Buffalo, though – to an outside observer, at least – appeared to lift their collective feet off the gas pedal to start the third period, seemingly backing off an aggressive style that served them so well in the second period. A livelier Washington team took advantage, as Backstrom tied the score with a wrist shot at the 7:09 mark of the third period.
But Buffalo came on strong to end the third and in overtime, nearly winning the game on several occasions before Vanek’s winner, in large part because the Sabres kept putting bodies in front of Holtby. Backstrom was given a double-minor for high-sticking former Capital Shaone Morrisonn with 2:54 left in regulation, and Vanek re-directed a shot near the end of the four-minute power play that hit the post to the left of Holtby. Buffalo had two four-minute power plays in the game – both of which they came up empty on – but it was not as if the power play opportunities were devoid of any chances.
Perhaps lost a bit in Vanek’s heroics was the return of Ryan Miller, who missed Buffalo’s last six games due to a lower-body injury. Miller’s lateral movement and timing looked very good, and made a huge stop on a breakaway by Ovechkin late in the first period with the Capitals ahead, 1-0, to keep the Capitals at bay.