(AP)— Alex Ovechkin scored his first goal of the season Sunday, and the Washington Capitals became the last NHL team to get a win, beating the Buffalo Sabres 3-2.
After a fruitless first week, Ovechkin found the net with a one-timer from the left circle on a power play with 14:49 remaining in the game. Then came the familiar celebration that had been missing thus far in this shortened season: the former two-time league MVP unleashing a downward fist pump with left knee bent, then collecting a row of high-fives as he skated along the Capitals bench.
Joel Ward had a goal and an assist, John Erskine also scored, and Michal Neuvirth made 22 saves for the Capitals, who had opened with four consecutive losses for the first time since the 1993-94 season. The sluggish start led players and new coach Adam Oates to openly question the team’s work ethic.
Ovechkin was also making the transition to right wing after playing on the left side for his entire NHL career. Oates suspended that experiment during the third game and put the Russian back on the left.
Ovechkin’s goal gave Washington a 3-1 lead. Marcus Foligno put in a rebound with 9:47 remaining to pull the Sabres within one, but Neuvirth and the Capitals survived Buffalo’s final push for a tying goal.
Ovechkin should have had a second goal in the final minute, but he hit the post of an empty net after the Sabres had pulled Ryan Miller for an extra skater.
Tyler Ennis scored in the first period, and Miller made 27 saves for the Sabres, who have lost three straight after opening the season with a pair of wins. Buffalo played without left wing Thomas Vanek, who had been on the ice for all 11 goals in Buffalo’s first four games. Vanek sat out with a muscle strain, sustained in the loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday.
Ennis scored the game’s opening goal as the trailer on an odd-man rush after Drew Stafford created a turnover at center ice.
Ward tied it for the Capitals late in the first with his third goal of the season, putting in the rebound off a shot from Jason Chimera.
Erskine’s shot from the blue line was deflected by Buffalo center Cody Hodgson into the net to put the Capitals ahead 2-1 in the second period, creating something of a novelty. Washington had held a lead for only 2 minutes, 32 seconds through its first four games.
NOTES: Sabres 18-year-old rookie C Mikhail Grigorenko was stopped from point-blank range early in the third period and remains without a point through five games. The Sabres now have to decide whether to keep Grigorenko on the roster — using up a year of his entry-level contract — or send him back to the juniors. … Buffalo entered the game as the worst faceoff team in the league by far, and it got worse. The Sabres won only 40.6 percent of their draws in their first four games and went 20 for 53 (38 percent) against the Capitals. … Two other Capitals hit the frame, with Nicklas Backstrom putting a shot off the crossbar in the first period and Mike Ribeiro hitting a post in the second. … Capitals C Marcus Johansson, who had no points and a team-worst minus-5 plus-minus rating over the first four games, was a healthy scratch for the first time this season.
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