BUFFALO – After getting throttled nine days earlier in Washington, the Sabres wanted another crack at the Capitals oh-so badly. The blowout loss left the rebuilding club bitter.
“It was a stinker last time we were in Washington,” winger Tyler Ennis said Monday following the Sabres’ entertaining and spirited 4-3 shootout loss. “They had their No. 1 unit out when it was 5-1, and they scored to make it 6-1 and celebrated pretty hard.”
The Sabres matched the Capitals for 65 minutes Monday, grabbing two leads before Johan Larsson tied it late.
“A lot of people might think we’re playing for nothing, but you’re playing for pride out there, you’re playing for the crest on the sweater, and again, you’re playing for jobs,” Sabres defenseman Mike Weber said. “… I thought it was a heck of an effort out of our team tonight.”
Ennis nearly won it late in regulation, misfiring on the power play. Evgeny Kuznetsov then scored the shootout’s only goal.
“It was a really good effort,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “Tyler has a little luck on that power play, he made a heck of a move. Skills competition at the end. So I’m quite pleased with the way we played.”
The Sabres, who play tonight in Boston, have lost seven straight games (0-5-2).
But they believe that elusive win will come sooner than later. Despite the owning the NHL’s worst record, they haven’t quit.
“These guys, for the last little while, they’ve been giving everything,” Nolan said. “They punch the clock.”
The Sabres also hung with the New York Rangers on Saturday before falling 2-0.
“We’ve played two of the top teams in the East,” Weber said. “We’ve kept it extremely close and pushed the pace at times.”
The Sabres pushed the pace early Monday. Ennis’ team-leading 18th goal opened the scoring at 5:02, the Sabres’ first power-play score in 15 tries and eight games. It was also the 10th time in the last 12 games the Sabres scored first.
Here’s how bad the Sabres’ power play is: Capitals star Alex Ovechkin has 21 power-play goals this season, the same number Buffalo has as a team.
With nothing to lose, Nolan moved Ennis, his most talented offensive threat, to the point, a position he said he had only played briefly in junior. Ennis completed a nifty give-and-go with Rasmus Ristolainen.
“It seemed to work,” Nolan said. “That power-play goal they scored, it was one of the prettier goals we scored all year. Tyler’s just so creative. We needed a guy back there to play the whole two minutes.”
Curtis Glencross’ power-play goal tied it at 10:03. Cody Hodgson’s third goal in nine games put the Sabres back up at 10:05. The struggling winger only has five goals all season.
Mike Green tied it in the second period before Kuznetsov’s power-play goal put the Capitals up 5:55 into the third period.
Then Larsson tied it at 13:50, redirecting Chad Ruhwedel’s shot past goalie Braden Holtby before the capacity crowd of 19,070 fans inside the First Niagara Center. The Sabres’ new No. 1 center has three goals in four games and four goals in 26 appearances all season.
Clearly, Larsson is seizing his chance.
“I think we’ve known what Larry can do for a long time,” Weber said. “He’s really just showing everyone what he can do. He’s a bulldog out there. He’s hard to play against, he’s strong on the puck.”
Larsson added: “I’m not chasing the game now, I try to get the game going to me.”
After Kuznetsov’s shootout goal, Phil Varone lost control of the puck as he zoomed in on Holtby.
Sabres goalie Anders Lindback made 35 saves, including nine on Ovechkin, in his third straight start. Lindback has looked sharp in his six appearances. Still, the Swede hasn’t won a game with the Sabres.
“Lindy keeps us propped us as a group,” Weber said.