BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Washington Capitals lost more than a game last night at HSBC Arena. The struggling Caps also lost high-scoring right wing Jaromir Jagr late in the first period with an injured groin.
After Jagr and the even hotter Robert Lang had teamed to put the Caps on top just 97 seconds into the game, the Buffalo Sabres rebounded for the next five goals and a 5-2 victory. It was Buffalo’s first victory in 11 games in which it had allowed the first goal.
Jagr wasn’t available for comment after the game and coach Bruce Cassidy didn’t speculate on how long the five-time NHL scoring champion would be out. Washington (6-14-1-1), the only team yet to win consecutive games, now faces the prospect of playing without Jagr, who missed one game last year and six the year before with groin woes.
“I’m concerned because Jags and Langer are a lot of our offense,” Cassidy said. “Every team is aware of Jags when he’s on the ice. He’s been really going for the last three weeks. And he had his jump tonight. It’s really unfortunate.”
Jagr’s assist on linemate Lang’s goal was his 10th in the last nine games while the goal was Lang’s 10th in the last 13 games. Jagr stole the puck behind the Buffalo net and fed Kip Miller. When Miller muffed the good scoring chance, Jagr backhanded the puck to Lang in the left circle, where he fired a high shot between goalie Mika Noronen and the left post with the ease of Tiger Woods on the first tee at Augusta.
Washington went on the power play twice in the next 4:05 but managed just two shots as its margin remained 1-0. Still, after the Caps deftly killed penalties on Joel Kwiatkowski and Jason Doig, it seemed they would go to the locker room with the lead. However with just 24.1 seconds left in the period, Daniel Briere’s shot caromed off the skate of the Caps’ Dainius Zubrus in front of the Washington net right to Buffalo’s Dmitri Kalinin, who lifted the goal over fallen goalie Rastislav Stana to make it 1-1.
Jagr didn’t come out for the second period with Ivan Ciernik, just recalled from Portland on Monday, taking his spot alongside Lang and Miller. At 7:11, Ales Kotalik threw the puck on Stana from the slot and the 23-year-old Slovakian — who had stopped 38 shots in stunning Detroit in his first NHL start on Monday — mishandled it into the net.
“We had a chance to convert on power plays and we didn’t and then they got themselves back in the game,” Cassidy said. “Our goalie wasn’t very good tonight. He gave up a soft goal and we lost Jagr and we don’t bounce back well from those things. That’s been our story all year. We’re not very resilient and we weren’t tonight.”
Miroslav Satan, who led the Sabres in goals in four of the previous five seasons, then ended an 11-game drought by placing a shot between Stana’s legs at 13:20. If that wasn’t bad enough, Satan ripped a drive past Stana from the left circle for a 4-1 lead just 12 seconds into a Buffalo power play. J.P. Dumont completed the four goals in 5:01 binge by blasting the puck between Stana and the right post at 17:12.
“For sure I would like to have a couple of those goals back,” Stana said. “You have to play well every night and give your team a chance to win. I don’t think I did in the second period.”
And as Cassidy said after Stana gave up the bad goal, his teammates “self-destructed” in front of the rookie. For all the Caps’ woes this season, that period was the first in which they had allowed four goals. They did so three times last season when they reached the playoffs for the 18th time in 21 years.
Ciernik got Washington back within 5-2 at 7:53 of the third period, taking a pass from Zubrus and firing a shot that fooled Noronen. It was Ciernik’s first NHL goal since April 5. He had four goals in 16 games for Portland of the American Hockey League this year.