BUFFALO, N.Y. — Nine — yes, nine Buffalo Sabres players, count ‘em — are hurt. Forty-five percent of their regular lineup sat Saturday. Eight rookies dressed. Six of the 20 players began the season in the minors.
Still, the Washington Capitals couldn’t down the injury-ravaged Sabres, giving a miserable effort in a 5-1 loss before a capacity crowd of 18,690 fans inside First Niagara Center.
The defeat, the Capitals’ sixth in their last eight games, comes just a week after a beat-up Maple Leafs team throttled them 7-1 in Toronto.
But the Capitals responded to that embarrassing loss by winning two straight last week. Now, they’ve dropped two in a row again.
“I think we played a pretty good two games,” said winger Jason Chimera, who scored his team–best ninth goal on a second-period penalty shot. “We come up with crap again.”
What about failing to exploit another team filled with neophytes and journeymen?
“You got to take advantage of teams that are hurt,” Chimera said. “You get guys called up, they’re playing their butts off because they want to be here. Sometimes they make a difference.
“You get guys on our team that have been around a long time. They get complacent a bit, don’t expect them to work hard. Then they outwork you.”
Captain Alex Ovechkin said, “You just have to work,” a sentiment many players echoed.
“You’re going to be frustrated,” Ovechkin, who was a minus-4 along with linemate Nicklas Backstrom, said quietly in the visiting dressing room. “You’re going to be frustrated after they score. If you’re going to look sad about yourself, it’s not going to work. It’s a 60-minute game. You have to come back and play, right?”
The Capitals never did, however. After falling behind 2-0 just 15:23 into the game, they missed a glorious chance to seize the momentum.
At 6:39 of the second period, Sabres defenseman Christian Ehrhoff knocked Chimera down on a breakaway. Ehrhoff was irate, arguing he had swatted the puck first. Chimera then roofed a shot past Sabres goalie Jhonas Enroth.
Just 27 seconds later, Sabres rookie Zack Kassian scored his first NHL goal in his second contest, his pedestrian shot from the right circle trickling between Tomas Vokoun’s pads.
The Sabres grabbed all the energy back.
“I think it was quite a blow,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “The bench was really buzzing, was pretty into that after that. You could tell. And then when they scored that goal it was quite deflating.”
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff added: “The Kassian goal was really a momentum-killer for them. That could’ve taken them a long ways the other direction.”
Minutes later, Backstrom was whistled for cross-checking 28 seconds into a power play, nullifying another Caps’ chance. With four scoreless tries Saturday, they’re now two for their last 39 on the man advantage.
Defenseman Roman Hamrlik and Dennis Wideman both endured another brutal night, each accumulating their second consecutive minus-3 effort. Fresh off their tough afternoon in a 6-3 home loss Friday to the New York Rangers, they earned two early minuses.
On Luke Adam’s score at 10:47, Wideman let Paul Szczechura feed the rookie from the end boards. Then Wideman couldn’t outmuscle Jason Pominville when the puck bounced into the air before the Sabres’ second goal.
Boudreau eventually broke the pair up, putting Wideman with Jeff Schultz and Hamrlik beside Dmitry Orlov.
“Obviously, it wasn’t going to be a success, so we had to change something,” Boudreau said.
Dating back to Wednesday, Wideman has been on the ice for nine of the 14 goals allowed, Hamrlik eight of the 14.
“Usually winning is the norm around here,” winger Mike Knuble said. “[It isn’t] right now, so back to the drawing board. The first thing we do is keep the goals against down.”
Adam scored his second 1:12 into the third period, and then Jochen Hecht tallied on a short-handed breakaway at 14:39.
Center Brooks Laich said the Capitals “can’t over-complicate things” and wants to strip their game down to “the very basics.”
“I thought some guys worked and played hard,” he said. “It just wasn’t there tonight. I don’t know what to say.”
Notes: Struggling winger Alexander Semin, a healthy scratch Monday, was called for diving in the second period, his ninth minor penalty in the last 10 games. … The Sabres lost defenseman Robyn Regehr and winger Drew Stafford in a 5-1 loss Friday in Columbus. Defensemen Tyler Myers and Mike Weber; goalie Ryan Miller; wingers Brad Boyes, Tyler Ennis, Patrick Kaleta and Cody McCormick are the other injured players. … The Sabres recalled defenseman Brayden McNabb, who made his NHL debut, and Szczechura, a veteran forward, prior to the game. Szczechura had two assists in his first big-league action since April 2, 2010. … Ovechkin has been a minus-4 four times in his career, Backstrom twice. Ironically, both last registered the rating Nov. 20, 2008 in Los Angeles. … The Capitals play the Sabres again on the road Dec. 26. … The Sabres had lost three straight. They improved to 5-6-1 at home.