JJ Peterka scored twice Tuesday. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu

JJ Peterka, linemates help Sabres beat Capitals on Jeff Skinner’s night

BUFFALO – Coming off a 12-goal rookie season, winger JJ Peterka was expected to showcase notable offensive growth this year. But who could’ve predicted the German would morph into the Sabres’ leading goal scorer?

Right now, having scored seven times in the last six games, including twice in Tuesday’s 6-2 thrashing of the Washington Capitals in KeyBank Center, he’s scorching.

Peterka, 22, has scored more goals than any NHL player since March 21.

On Tuesday, he continued his torrid run, scoring a power-play goal late in the first period to put the Sabres up 2-1. His second-period goal extended the lead to 3-1 before the crowd of 14,390 fans.

On a team featuring four players who scored at least 31 goals last season, Peterka’s 28 goals lead the Sabres.

Sabres coach Don Granato said he’s not surprised the youngster has started scoring regularly because he possesses the drive to complement his skill.

“He has such a capacity for growth,” he said. “I think he’s turned his attention to growing, to adding to his game. Adding compete, adding work ethic, adding details, positional play without the puck to get it back to get more production. So based on his work in those areas, I’m not surprised at all.”

Peterka, who recently earned a spot at left wing alongside top center Tage Thompson and Alex Tuch, credits his details for buoying his offensive production.

“Positioning better in the defensive zone, getting the puck, get back quicker and I think just work ethic in the O-zone as well,” he said.

The Sabres spent much of the game in the offensive zone, receiving contributions from all over the lineup on a night they honored winger Jeff Skinner for his 1,000th NHL game.

Thompson, who has scored six times in the last seven contests, Tuch and defenseman Rasmus Dahlin each recorded one goal and three points. Peterka also registered three points.

Winger Zemgus Girgensons scored the other goal, tying the game 15:42 into the first period after Martin Fehervary put the Capitals up 2:46 into the contest.

Granato said moments before Girgensons redirected Dahlin’s shot past goalie Charlie Lindgren, the Latvian’s simple play through the neutral zone – he was first on the forecheck – got the Sabres rolling.

“We weren’t as sharp as we would have liked off the start, and that was still part of the start of the game,” he said. “And it turned it pretty quick for us, I think, when Zemgus made several plays before that goal.”

Peterka followed at 16:50, scoring the Sabres’ first power-play goal in eight games. They began the night goalless in their last 18 tries.

“Yeah, it was very big,” said Dahlin, who scored the Sabres’ second power play goal 3:03 into the third period. “We’ve been having a lot meetings lately.”

After Dylan Strome’s power-play goal late in the second period got the Capitals within 3-2, the Sabres roared back. Dahlin scored to restore the two-goal lead when Max Pacioretty’s holding penalty negated Peterka’s tripping call.

Thompson and Tuch followed, giving the Sabres three goals in a span of 2:30 to put the game out of reach.

The win, just the Sabres’ third in their last seven outings, gives them 77 points. With six games left, they trail the Capitals by five points for the second wild card spot.

The Sabres, however, also trail the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Islanders and Detroit Red Wings for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff berth.

If the Sabres pull off a miracle and make it, Skinner, 31, would have an opportunity to make the first postseason appearance of his 14-year career.

The Sabres honored Skinner, the 11th-youngest player to reach the milestone, all night.

Prior to a pregame ceremony with his family – “Those people are huge role models of mine,” Skinner said – players donned special red “Skinner 1,000” toques during warm-ups. They also sported special patches on their jerseys throughout the game.

“Every year he’s continued being such a good pro and takes care of himself and just being a really good guy around the team,” Dahlin said. “And he always brings a smile, so he’s the perfect teammate and I have a lot to thank him for.”

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