- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 24, 2009

Nicklas Backstrom has a well-earned reputation as one of the NHL’s elite setup men. He’s starting to show he’s not bad at the whole goal-scoring deal, either.

Backstrom had a pair of goals Wednesday night to help his Washington Capitals to a convincing 5-2 victory against the Buffalo Sabres at Verizon Center.

The Sabres carried the momentum into the second intermission, but Tomas Fleischmann drew a pair of penalties midway through the final period and Washington’s recently dormant power play put the game away.

With the two-man advantage, Alexander Semin fired the puck toward the slot. Alex Ovechkin whiffed on the one-timer, but it went right to Backstrom along the goal line to the right Buffalo netminder Ryan Miller, and he flipped it into the net at 10:55 of the third.

Backstrom now has 14 goals this season, which puts him on pace to easily best his career-high of 22 last year. He also has 10 in the team’s past 11 contests.

The Caps still had time left on the second penalty, and Ovechkin added another insurance tally at 12:10. Mike Green sent the puck toward the slot and it banked off Brooks Laich to Ovechkin in the left circle. He now has 24 goals, one shy of New York’s Marian Gaborik for the league lead.

Miller entered the contest atop the league leaders in goals against average and save percentage, but he yielded five goals on 38 shots — only the second time this season he has conceded that many.

The Caps raced to a 2-0 lead with a dominant first period. Miller stopped Backstrom’s first great chance, but the Swedish center buried a one-timer from Ovechkin seconds later at 1:18 of the opening period.

Green made it a two-goal lead less than five minutes later. Chris Clark and Eric Fehr won a puck battle in the left corner before Fehr sent a diagonal pass to Green near the right point. His shot hit Derek Roy’s stick and fluttered over Miller’s left shoulder at 6:47.

As has been the case often this season, the Caps followed a fantastic first period with a dud in the second. The Sabres, after being held to just four shots in the opening 20 minutes roared back and put 20 shots on rookie netminder Michal Neuvirth in the middle period.

Paul Gaustad cut the lead in half at 5:04. Seconds after Washington erased a four-on-three opportunity for Buffalo, Roy and Gaustad broke in on Neuvirth with a two-on-one. Gaustad’s shot trickled between Neuvirth’s legs for his seventh of the year.

Brendan Morrison briefly restored the two-tally advantage at 10:48. Morrison collected the rebound from a Fleischmann shot near the right post and put his stick between his legs to flick the puck under the crossbar for his 10th of the year.

It was Morrison’s first goal in nine games, though he’s had several prime opportunities nullified by superb goaltending and he has missed a couple of open nets.

Barely more than two minutes later, the Sabres made it a one-goal contest again. Tim Connolly, who hadn’t scored in the previous 13 games, deflected a point shot by Steve Montador past Neuvirth at 12:52.

After the Caps outshot the Sabres 15-4 in the first period, Buffalo came back with 20 shots on net in the second. Making his fourth start of the season, Neuvirth helped withstand the charge and finished the night with 32 saves for his second win in as many games.

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