The Washington Capitals were embarrassed, again, by the Buffalo Sabres on Monday night, falling 4-2 inside First Niagara Center. Michal Neuvirth was pulled after half a period after allowing three goals, and Tomas Vokoun was solid in relief but by then the damage was already done. Matt Hendricks and Alex Ovechkin made it look more respectable with goals well after the result was in any doubt, but the reality is that the Caps were humbled by a team struggling more than them. And so, it's back to the drawing board. Again.
The game got off to a disastrous start, with Buffalo striking on the power play after only 51 seconds after Roman Hamrlik took a delay of game penalty after nine seconds. The Sabres extended their lead a little less than two minutes later off the stick of Matt Ellis, and the rout, as they say, was on. The Caps steadied the ship slightly in the following six minutes, including earning a power play, but Christian Ehrhoff scored after 11 minutes to send Neuvirth to an early shower in a game he never should have started in the first place. Alex Ovechkin took a penalty soon after Ehrhoff's goal, and Brayden McNabb scored his first off the season on that power play, basically eliminating any chance the Caps had to get a point out of the game.
In the second period, Joel Ward took an early penalty and the Sabres continued to bring the pressure; it was only the solid play of Vokoun that kept the Caps from being even more embarrassed. Even when the Caps were given a power play of their own midway through the frame, they could get absolutely nothing going. Finally, with less than 20 seconds left in the period, Matt Hendricks got DC on the board with a goal in front, and the period ended with Buffalo ahead 4-1.
In the third period, is was clear that Washington had accepted their fate, continually allowing the Sabres to gain momentum and get wide open chances at Vokoun's net. Alex Ovechkin got himself a power play goal from the point at the halfway mark of the final period, but that was the only dent that the Caps could make in Ryan Miller. The Sabres got two more power plays as the game wound down, but could not score and the Caps skated out of Buffalo beaten and humiliated by an inferior team.
Michal Neuvirth started this game...why? A loss in his last start, a GAA over 3 on the season and a save percentage under .895 on the season. Granted, Tomas Vokoun has not been his best or even close to it, but he's been a lot better than that. A really poor decision by Dale Hunter, and it may have cost the Caps a point; two of the goals Neuvirth let in were directly his fault. Remember when the Caps were supposed to have one of the best goalie tandems in the league?
Alex Ovechkin was not invisible tonight. An improvement. But really, Ovi was better. His goal was, of course, nice, but it's just not enough. He is not enough. He needs to be for the Caps to have a chance to break this funk and go far in the playoffs. Or, you know, even make the playoffs. I'm kidding. Kind of.
Next up, the Caps have the Rangers on Wednesday. The same team who lead the Eastern Conference and are beating teams down. And beat the Caps 6-3 in November. This is going to get worse before it gets better. Puck drop for that one is 7:30.