Capitals 3, Sabres 2

Associated Press | Wednesday, 08.06.2014 / 4:48 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) - An NHL routine gone missing for 262 days made an overdue return Sunday: Alex Ovechkin scored a goal, and the Washington Capitals won.

Like old times. The two-time league MVP nailed a one-timer from the left circle on a power play, skated a few feet, bent his left knee and unleashed that familiar downward celebratory fist pump. He then collected the customary row of high-fives as he skated past the Capitals bench.

And, naturally, it proved to be the decisive goal in the game, coming with 14:49 remaining in a 3-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres. The Capitals hadn't won - and Ovechkin hadn't scored - since May 9, 2012, during a playoff series against the New York Rangers.

"We finally win," Ovechkin said. "So it's much, much better for us right now. No pressure (on) our shoulders."

Joel Ward scored his third goal of the season, John Erskine got his first since the 2011 playoffs, and Michal Neuvirth made 22 saves for the Capitals, who had opened with four consecutive losses for the first time since 1993-94. The sluggish start - which included far too many needless penalties and defensive lapses - led players and new coach Adam Oates to openly question the team's work ethic.

Not so on Sunday. The Capitals went to the penalty box only twice and didn't allow a power play goal for the first time this season. After the final whistle, the players gathered at center ice and raised their sticks to the fans, a fitting showing of thanks from the last team in the league to get a win. It was also Oates' first as an NHL head coach.

"I was kind of hoping it would be sooner," Oates said, "but I'm glad."

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. Nevertheless, Ovechkin looks more comfortable now that he's back on the left wing. He was on the right side for the first time in his career for most of the first three games, an experiment by Oates that's been shelved for now.

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, and was replaced by Nathan Gerbe on the top line with Cody Hodgson and Jason Pominville.

"As a line they didn't get much going on," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. "It looked like maybe a little fatigue in their game. ... A couple of our top guys didn't quite have it."

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 will use up a year of his entry-level contract if he plays in one more game, so the team has to decide whether to send him back to the juniors. "I'm going to look at it again," Ruff said. "I thought overall it was a good showing for him. You'd like to see him finish that play." ... The Capitals had led for only 2:32 all season before Erskine's second-period goal. ... The Sabres entered the game as by far the worst faceoff team in the league and got even worse, winning only 20 of 53 draws (38 percent) against the Capitals. ... Washington 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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Scoring Summary
1st Period
09:34BUF Tyler Ennis (1) ASST: Steve Ott (1), Drew Stafford (2) 1 - 0 BUF
16:02WSH Joel Ward (3) ASST: Jason Chimera (3), Mike Ribeiro (4) 1 - 1 Tie
2nd Period
03:18WSH John Erskine (1) ASST: Joel Ward (2), Jason Chimera (4) 2 - 1 WSH
3rd Period
05:11WSH PPG - Alex Ovechkin (1) ASST: Mike Green (2), Mike Ribeiro (5) 3 - 1 WSH
10:13BUF Marcus Foligno (1) ASST: Andrej Sekera (2), Tyler Ennis (2) 3 - 2 WSH
Three Stars of the Game
Joel Ward
Joel Ward
G: 1Shots: 2
A: 1Hits: 1
PTS: 2PIM: 0
+/-: 2TOI: 15:23
Mike Ribeiro
Mike Ribeiro
G: 0Shots: 1
A: 2Hits: 0
PTS: 2PIM: 0
+/-: 2TOI: 13:46
Alex Ovechkin
Alex Ovechkin
G: 1Shots: 5
A: 0Hits: 3
PTS: 1PIM: 0
+/-: -1TOI: 18:29
Penalty Summary
1st Period
00:49BUF Steve Ott  Boarding against  John Carlson
19:27WSH John Erskine  Tripping against  Jochen Hecht
2nd Period
06:32BUF Andrej Sekera  Interference against  Troy Brouwer
3rd Period
04:28BUF Alexander Sulzer  Delaying Game-Puck over glass
06:58WSH Joey Crabb  Hooking against  Marcus Foligno
shots by period
Team Stats
Power Plays0/21/3
Faceoff Wins2033
Blocked Shots918
Penalty Minutes64
3J. LeopoldD0012019:12
9S. OttC0110221:09
10C. EhrhoffD0000023:47
19C. HodgsonC00-21018:44
21D. StaffordR0104019:15
24R. RegehrD00-11017:25
25M. GrigorenkoC0002017:10
29J. PominvilleR00-11019:03
32J. ScottL000105:12
36P. KaletaR001009:50
37M. EllisL000005:44
42N. GerbeC00-21011:08
44A. SekeraD0100219:48
52A. SulzerD0002216:41
55J. HechtC0001017:47
57T. MyersD0001018:56
63T. EnnisC1124018:40
82M. FolignoL1013016:57
30R. Miller2730.90058:44
4J. ErskineD1013220:56
8A. OvechkinL10-15018:29
9M. RibeiroC0221013:46
15J. CrabbR00-10215:05
16E. FehrC00-1108:25
17W. WolskiL00-14013:09
19N. BackstromC0002019:42
20T. BrouwerR0003018:40
25J. ChimeraL0223012:44
26M. HendricksL0000015:22
27K. AlznerD00-10025:03
36T. KundratekD0000010:34
42J. WardR1122015:23
52M. GreenD0102027:58
55J. SchultzD000209:46
74J. CarlsonD0001023:18
83J. BeagleR00-11018:31
85M. PerreaultC00-1009:09
30M. Neuvirth2224.91760:00