Costly penalty, early deficit doom Capitals
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BUFFALO, N.Y. — The penalty kill has been a constant topic of conversation for the Washington Capitals this season, an area they can’t seem to avoid.
The team had positively addressed it in the recent days with its trade additions of veteran forward Carl Hagelin and defenseman Nick Jensen, both considered skilled in that situation. Washington had also found success in February, entering Saturday’s bout against Buffalo having killed 26 of 30 penalties, which ranked second in the NHL during the month.
But once center Nic Dowd skated to the penalty box for tripping late in the second period of a 5-2 loss to the Sabres at KeyBank Center, the penalty kill was again in the spotlight for the wrong reason.
With 30.4 seconds left in the second period and Dowd in the box, Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Dahlin found the back of the net on the power play to give the Sabres a 3-1 cushion. Concluding its six-game road trip, Washington will head home to face the New York Rangers in a matinee game Sunday at Capital One Arena. Washington finished with a 3-3 record on its longest road trip in more than 15 years.
The Capitals fell into a 2-0 hole early in Saturday’s matinee with the Sabres opening the scoring with a wide-open goal by forward Jason Pominville after he received a no-look pass from forward Jason Skinner. Buffalo tacked on its second goal at 12:51 from forward Sam Reinhart, who slipped behind the defense off a broken play at center ice to zip one past Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby.
Washington’s struggles in the first period temporarily appeared to diminish in the second, with Alex Ovechkin netting his NHL-best 44th goal off a speedy breakaway 2:28 into the period. The Capitals captain extended his goal-scoring streak to five games, with six goals in that span. It marked the 13th time in his career that Ovechkin has recorded a five-game goal streak, the most by any player since his debut season in 2005-06. He has 30 even-strength goals on the season, a stark contrast to the 16 he tallied two seasons ago.
Soon after Ovechkin’s goal, Buffalo was forced to play without Skinner, the team’s leading scorer, for the remainder of the second period after the Capitals’ newly acquired veteran Carl Hagelin was called for tripping at the 4:42 mark. Skinner appeared to badly hurt his left leg and was unable to walk down the team tunnel under his own power, but reentered the game in the third period.