Rally falls short for Caps

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Right wing Brian Willsie, who has played just 137 NHL games but classifies as a veteran on this Washington Capitals team, correctly summed things up after last night’s fiasco against Buffalo.

“We’ve got to find a way to keep the pucks out of our net,” he said quite matter-of-factly.

How true. The Caps, down by five goals at one point, cut the deficit to a pair but still managed to lose 8-5 to a Sabres team that was skating around and losing control almost as much as the Caps.

There were fights, power play goals, a shorthanded goal, even-strength goals, good goaltending, bad goaltending, power failures in the HSBC Arena electrical system and more than a foot of snow on the ground just a few miles to the south.

It was a game with no structure, no flow. Buffalo won the first 30 minutes 6-1. The Caps won the second 30 minutes 4-2. The fights were mostly draws but it was Buffalo that got the win.

“The slow start killed us tonight,” said defenseman Jamie Heward. “We didn’t come out and play well enough in the first 20 minutes. We got a goal but we were flat-footed. We let them do a little too much, allowed them to be too creative, to have time to be playmakers. It took us time to get warmed up.”

By then it was too late. Matt Bradley took on Adam Mair and won his fight seven minutes into the second in an effort to get the Caps into the mood. Brendan Witt responded to a slash by Thomas Vanek by starting a brawl 11:27 into the second but the damage already had been done.

Chris Clark, Andrew Cassels, Brian Sutherby (shorthanded), Alex Ovechkin and Ben Clymer scored for Washington. The Sabres were led by Taylor Pyatt’s first NHL hat trick. He is the son of former Cap Nelson Pyatt, who played in Washington during the team’s first two seasons in the mid-1970s.

Ovechkin, who also had an assist, also started a brawl when he checked Buffalo’s Martin Biron along the right boards when the goalie ventured far afield to play a loose puck. Ovechkin’s check floored the goalie and three Sabres immediately descended on the rookie, who was saved from further trouble when he was grabbed from behind by Buffalo defenseman Henrik Tallinder.

“He’s got a great shot, a pretty good shoulder, too,” Biron said after the game.

Washington entered the game knowing Buffalo was the least penalized team in the league and that it was the 26th worst — rather lopsided odds. The odds become even worse when the Sabres’ very good power play is factored in against the Caps’ awful penalty-killing.

Yet it was the slow pace of the game that seemed to prevent the Caps from doing much, not bad penalty killing. Both teams killed five of their opponent’s six chances but Washington was unable to capitalize.

The Caps were not helped by a poor goaltending performance by Brent Johnson, one game after he backstopped the Caps to a shootout victory over Tampa Bay. Johnson allowed a weak goal less than a minute into the game and did not play well after that.

Notes — Defenseman Brendan Witt was hit with a game misconduct midway in the second and will be fined by the league. Even though his brother Martin was playing in goal for Buffalo, Caps defenseman Mathieu Biron was a healthy scratch. Olie Kolzig came off injured reserve and was available as Johnson’s backup but the rest of the medical scratches were the same: center Dainius Zubrus (groin), left wing Jeff Friesen (groin), defenseman Nolan Yonkman (hip pointer) and right wing Stephen Peat (broken right hand). Weather permitting (this is Buffalo and it’s snowing), the Caps are scheduled to practice late this afternoon before departing for Montreal.

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