WASHINGTON – There’s nothing good about a loss. Whether it’s a blowout or a close setback, it’s a big, fat zero in the points column.
After their third straight loss Sunday, the Buffalo Sabres tried to keep a positive attitude. They know the 3-2 decision in Washington isn’t good enough, but they feel they at least got closer to doing what’s needed to earn victories.
“I’m not going to say it was a great game, but I saw some things we did a lot better,” goaltender Ryan Miller said in Verizon Center. “It’s coming around a little better, but we’ve got to find ways to get these to overtime and start pulling out some points.”
Washington finally did. The Capitals earned their first win in five games, becoming the second team in a week to get their opening “W” against Buffalo. Carolina earned back-to-back wins to start the Sabres’ skid.
“It’s just little things now,” Buffalo defenseman Jordan Leopold said. “It’s not anything big. It’s attention to detail. We had a couple minor mistakes, but it’s a learning curve early in the year. There’s not a lot of time to recoup those points that you end up losing.”
The Sabres learned Sunday morning that Thomas Vanek would have to sit with a muscle strain. Since the ailing winger accounted for nearly one-third of Buffalo’s limited offensive output through the first four games, it was assumed the Sabres would struggle to generate scoring chances.
The assumption proved correct. Tyler Ennis scored with 10 minutes gone and Marcus Foligno found the net with 10 minutes to go, but there was little in between as Buffalo took 24 shots.
“There were a lot plays there I liked, from forcing turnovers to getting on top of people to not giving them time to bottling up the neutral zone,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “We just as a team have to do a better job around the front of their net. We’re not getting enough bodies there.”
Vanek is typically a force in front, but he was unavailable after tweaking a muscle while falling awkwardly Friday. He might return Tuesday when the Sabres host Toronto in First Niagara Center.
“I anticipated really that Thomas was going to be able to play,” Ruff said. “I thought cases like this you can usually bounce back, but it’s a day-to-day type situation.”
Vanek’s linemates, Cody Hodgson and Jason Pominville, missed him. They failed to get a point after combining for 11 in the opening four games.
“Some other guys really picked their game up, had good games where they’d been struggling, and a couple of our top guys didn’t quite have it,” Ruff said.
Ennis got Buffalo off to a solid start by finding the net with 9:34 gone. Drew Stafford raced to a loose puck near center ice and fed Steve Ott to his left. Ott quickly went across the ice to Ennis, who glided through the slot and slipped a backhand under the outstretched pad of Michal Neuvirth.
It the first goal by a Sabres player not named Vanek, Hodgson or Pominville since the season opener.
Washington knotted things before the first intermission. Jason Chimera took a shot from the corner, and Miller kicked it directly into the slot. Joel Ward corralled it and slid it past Miller with 3:58 to go.
Defenseman John Erskine’s shot from just inside the point struck the stick of Hodgson and caromed past Miller midway through the second.
Washington’s winner on the power play was exactly how the team draws it up in practice. Mike Ribeiro got the puck low on the right side of Buffalo’s zone. He passed to the right point for Mike Green, who slid a cross-ice pass to Alex Ovechkin. He buried a one-timer for his first goal of the season before Miller could move across to get in the way.
“My read could have been a little bit better,” the goalie said. Foligno cashed in a close-range rebound with 9:47 left to get a rise from the Buffalo backers in the crowd of 18,506, but the Caps sent the Sabres home with another loss.
“We needed to break this skid here,” Leopold said. “Now we need to look to another day.”