It took until the fifth try and the eighth day of the season, but the Washington Capitals finally managed to put together a complete game under the guidance of first-year coach Adam Oates and come away with a victory.
Fueled by contributions from every corner of the lineup, from Alex Ovechkin through to Joel Ward and John Erskine, Washington played a smart and aggressive brand of hockey to defeat the Buffalo Sabres, 3-2, on Sunday afternoon at Verizon Center. It was the only reward the Capitals wanted after days of making gradual progress in getting up to speed with their new coach and new system.
"I think to get that first win this year, it kind of got the monkey off our back," said Erskine, who scored his first goal since May 4, 2011, in the second period. "I think guys will be a little bit at ease. It's not so much pressure now. And I think we got a good thing going here and we just got to keep rolling."
Truth is, Washington's first victory had its roots in the 3-2 overtime loss two days earlier in New Jersey. While they were defeated by the defending Eastern Conference champion Devils, the Capitals discovered their mental fortitude when they rallied from a two-goal deficit that night and proved to themselves how well they could play if they stuck to the game plan.
"Hopefully the New Jersey game gave us confidence that when you do it right we look like a real team," said Oates, who earned his first win as an NHL head coach.
To a man, every player agreed it was important to build off of that performance and that's exactly what the Capitals did against the Sabres.
"The main thing is that we carry on what we started in Jersey and just played the right way today, just by chipping pucks and outworking those guys," Mike Ribeiro said. "I think Jersey, the one point was what we deserved, and today I think fully two points. The way we played, we played smart, we chipped pucks, we didn't play too much in our zone. We just played smart hockey today, and it paid dividends."
When Buffalo, which was without top scorer Thomas Vanek (nine points in four games) on Sunday, took a 1-0 lead on a goal by Tyler Ennis 9:34 into the first period, the Capitals weren't rattled. They simply pushed harder and stuck to the basics.
With four minutes left in the first, a simple play by Ward to shuttle the puck back down low and keep the play alive in the offensive zone led to his tying goal.
At the start of the second it was Erskine, playing in just his second game of the season, who gave Washington a 2-1 lead, while Ovechkin scored on a power play in the third to make the lead 3-1. Marcus Foligno scored Buffalo's final goal with just under 10minutes left.
"I knew it was gonna come sooner or later," Ovechkin said, quickly turning the focus to the larger milestone at hand with the team's first win. "I think today we play very well offensively and start play responsible and defensive. And I think it's conditioning stuff. We're get in shape and you can see how we move. We stop. We not make circles. And it's working. You can see how we play today."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun