Capitals’ magic number not enough against Sabres’ high-flying offense

Caps’ magic number not enough against Sabers’ high-flying offense originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

WASHINGTON — For much of this season, the Capitals’ success has come in threes.

Heading into play Tuesday, they carried a 21-1-2 record when scoring three or more goals in a game. They were 0-12-3 when they didn’t. Their steady defense backed by strong goaltending has put them in a position to win every time the offense gives them enough run support.

On Tuesday, however, the Buffalo Sabers changed the requirements. They arrived in DC sporting the No. 1 scoring offense in the NHL at 3.94 goals per game. They converted 28.2% of their power-play opportunities, third-best in the league. Led by breakout star Tage Thompson, the Sabers’ offense has been no joke even as they’ve hovered around .500.

The Capitals scored their three goals and even added a fourth, but it still wasn’t enough to get the win as the Sabers pulled off a 5-4 win in overtime. Thompson scored two goals in regulation and completed the hat trick with the game-winner, pushing his total on the season to 30. It marked the first time the Capitals allowed five goals in a game in a month.

“We were playing a team that’s young and fast and is dynamic offensively,” Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette said in his postgame press conference. “They’re the top-scoring team in the league and it showed. They get an opportunity and they put it in the back of the net.”

For Laviolette and his players, the first period stuck out as the driving factor behind the loss. They struggled to gain momentum on the offensive end, ceding quality possessions to the Sabers that they didn’t let go to waste. Buffalo finished the period up 2-1 with both goals coming off spectacular plays by Thompson.

“A little bit of an inconsistent game for us,” Oshie said. “Not a great first period at all.” [Darcy Kuemper] kind of keeping us in it there. I thought a good second, pretty decent third, too. Just gave up a couple there…inconsistent game for us and something that we’ve been doing a good job of I think is playing consistently, consistently hard, good defensively. And tonight, just a little too inconsistent against a team that can make you pay for playing like that.”

The Capitals outscored the Sabers 3-2 over the final two periods, taking control of the game by taking a 4-3 lead with 12:50 to play behind the efforts of Alex Ovechkin. Where three had been their magic number all year, the Capitals were an even better 15-0-1 with at least four. But a flurry of shots led to a goal by center Tyson Jost to tie the game four and a half minutes later.

Washington held on to force overtime, at least securing one point toward the standings. But the Capitals weren’t able to find the fifth goal, instead watching as Thompson finished them off to send the surging Sabers to their seventh win in eight games.

Three goals has usually been enough to get it done. Four has pretty much been a lock. But on a night when Kuemper allowed a season-high five, they needed a little bit more.

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