"BULLSEYE!" Ovechkin's first goal of the year puts the Caps up 3-1
Before starting his first season as an NHL head coach, Adam Oates said he planned on using Alex Ovechkin in every possible situation.
“He’s one of our marquee guys,” Oates said. “He has to play well. Every team’s star players have to play well. They do. And no exception here.”
On Sunday, Oates saw how Ovechkin can win a game with one powerful shot on the power play, then make things interesting by missing an open net in the final seconds of a game.
“Ovi made it a little closer than I anticipated,” Oates said after earning his first victory as an NHL head coach, a 3-2 nailbiter over the visiting Buffalo Sabres.
Ovechkin seemed energized when Oates reunited him with Nicklas Backtrom and Troy Brouwer, but it was his power-play cannon shot from the left circle 5:11 into the third period that stood up as the game winner.
With Sabres defenseman Alexander Sulzer in the penalty box for delay of game, Ovechkin set up in his familiar spot in the left circle and drilled a pass from Mike Green past goaltender Ryan Miller. The goal snapped Ovechkin’s longest scoring drought to open a season -- four games -- and gave the Capitals a 3-1 lead.
“It was tough to give Ovechkin one in the third period and spot them another goal,” Miller said. “I think my read could have been a little bit better.”
Ovechkin finished the game with a team-high five shots and three hits, but it was his miss with 30 seconds remaining in the game that both he and Oates scratching their heads.
With Ryan Miller on the Buffalo bench for an extra attacker, Oates sent his star left wing over the boards. Ovechkin crossed the blue line and fired a shot toward the empty net that sailed wide.
“To be honest with you I was like, ‘OK, empty net, easy goal,” Ovechkin said.
Another thought ran through Oates’ mind.
“I thought, ‘Oh no. Don’t do it. Not now.’”
Thanks to the solid play of goaltender Michal Neuvirth [22 saves] the Caps held on for the win.
Joel Ward and John Erskine scored the other two goals for the Caps, while Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno scored for the Sabres, who fell to 2-3-0.
The Caps struggled to find their groove in the first period, but when Oates juggled his forward lines to start the second period, everything changed.
The Caps’ second line of Mike Ribeiro, Jason Chimera and Ward combined for two goals, while the third and fourth lines – Jay Beagle between Wojtek Wolksi and Joey Crab, and Mathieu Perreault between Matt Hendricks and Eric Fehr – played controlled hockey.
Several Capitals said they set the tone for Sunday’s win with Friday night’s 3-2 overtime loss in New Jersey.
“We did a lot of good things [in New Jersey] that we carried over today,” Ward said, “especially defensively.”
Ovechkin said the biggest difference is the Caps are starting to play their way into shape and are understanding their responsibilities in Oates’ system.
“You can see us stopping instead of making circles and you can see the difference,” Ovechkin said. “When you’re in shape you have more power and you’re more physical. When we have the puck it’s really hard to get it back.”