By: Justin Creech
Washington, DC-- The Washington Capitals ended their three game losing streak with one of their most solid effort of the season Wednesday night against the visiting Buffalo Sabres.
The Capitals got an early goal from Alex Ovechkin, then rode the play of their defense and goaltender Semyon Varlamov (25 saves) until Eric Fehr put the game away with his fourth goal of the season at 13:38 of the third for a 2-0 win in front of 18, 277 at Verizon Center.
The shutout was Varlamov's first career regular season shutout and first since Game 5 of last season's Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the New York Rangers.
Ovechkin's goal was his 17th of the season and third in five games since returning from a two week absence because of an upper body injury, but his solid play was overshadowed by a hit early in the third period.
Ovechkin was ejected at 3:38 of the third period after receiving a five minutes game misconduct for boarding Buffalo's Patrick Kaleta face first into the far boards. Kaleta stayed on his hands and knees briefly before skating to the bench. He was checked by the Sabres trainer for what appeared to be facial cuts.
"I just go take a hit," said Ovechkin of the hit. "He is turned and he just fell into boards. If ref say it's a penalty it's a penalty."
Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau disagreed with the ejection saying Kaleta saw Oveckin coming.
"We just watched it a half dozen times and he hits him in the shoulder," said Boudreau. "It might have warrented a two minute minor but nothing more then that."
Kaleta has a bit of history with the Capitals and dirty hits. He caused former Capitals forward Chris Bourgue to miss most of the pre-season with a concussion after a hit in the team's matchup on Sept 17. Boudreau, however, didn't feel Ovechkin's hit had anything to do with that incident.
The Capitals were left with having to kill off a five minute Sabres power play after Ovechkin's ejection. They received some help after defenseman Craig Rivet received two minutes for tripping 45 seconds into the power play.
Washington allowed just three shots on the power play which Capitals' defenseman Brian Pothier felt was the key moment of the game.
"We loss the most prolific scorer in the game league and on top of that get a five minute penalty kill," said Pothier. "Plus we are down a couple of our key penalty killers in [Shaone] Morrison and [Tom] Poti and [Varlamov] really made the saves when he needed to."
Pothier also played a key part in a Capitals defense that allowed just 25 shots, 14 over the final two periods. Pothier through a hip check on Buffalo's Clarke MaCarthur just inside the Sabres blue line then cut off Drew Stafford as he tried to cut to the net midway through the third period.
Pothier said just playing the system has allowed the Capitals to become more consistent on defense in recent games.
"Our forwards have done a pretty good job of back checking and that allows us to be more aggressive as a defensive core," said Pothier. "When we play our system we are very good [because] we do a good job clogging up the middle and making [teams] make plays that are risky."
After Varlamov made several saves early in the first period, Jeff Schultz pushed the puck to Ovechkin who skated to the right in front of Sabres rookie defensman Tyler Myers just inside the blue line before unleashing a snap shot from the top of the left circle that beat Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller at 6:24.
The Capitals had several chances in the second period to get on the board, but were either stoned by Miller or were unable to get a quality shot off.
Fehr put the game away after putting home a pass from Brendan Morrison. After the Capitals won the offensive zone faceoff, Mike Green sent the puck behind the net where Morrison picked it up, skated to the left of Miller and found Fehr who was covered by Buffalo's Tim Kennedy.
Miller made 22 stops.