BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Alexander Ovechkin’s business in the NHL has always been scoring goals, and his climb up the NHL’s career leaderboard has him on par with his coach’s favorite player.
Ovechkin matched Phil Esposito for sixth on the NHL list with his 717th goal and the Washington Capitals beat the Buffalo Sabres 6-0 on Monday night.
“Obviously, it’s nice to be in this company,” Ovechkin said about tying Esposito. “I just do what I have to do. I try to use my chances and move on.”
Ovechkin scored in the third period, helping send the Capitals to their fifth straight win with his 1,299th career point — one shy of becoming the 35th player to reach 1,300.
“There is something going on with Ovi just about every night right now with the postgame. Tonight, that is a big one,” Laviolette said. “I grew up in Massachusetts watching Phil, so to be able to grow up and watch him and the player he was — and he also gave me my chance in hockey and in the organization — so I’ve known Phil for a long time and was an unbelievable player, unbelievable goal scorer.
“Now to get a chance to work with Ovi and have these two guys sitting here at the same number is pretty, pretty incredible so I am really happy for ‘O.’”
Ovechkin scored from the slot off a pass from former Sabre Conor Sheary, who found him cutting toward the net. He snapped a quick shot past Carter Hutton, who was screened.
Vitek Vanecek stopped 23 shots for his first NHL shutout and improved to 4-0-1 against the Sabres. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom, Richard Panik, Daniel Sprong and Garnet Hathaway also scored for Washington, which used three goals in the second period to move to within two points of the New York Islanders in the Eastern Division. The Capitals face the Islanders on Tuesday night.
“(The next game) is definitely on our mind, just as the game progressed here and took advantage of the bench and we understand it is a big game tomorrow and we will get home tonight, let the guys rest in the morning and be ready to go,” Laviolette said.
After Kuznetsov gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead at 18:46 of the first period with his 400th NHL point, Backstrom made it 2-0 at 2:41 of the second. Backstrom’s 11th goal of the season came in his 984th game with the Capitals, passing Calle Johansson for second-most games in franchise history.
Panik made it 3-0 at 5:59 with a one-timer after defenseman Dmitry Orlov stole the puck at center ice after a pass from Brandon Montour went long.
Sprong made it 4-0 when he came in on a breakaway in which his shot beat Hutton up high for his third goal in the past four games and sixth of the season at 15:07.
Hathaway gave the Capitals a 5-0 lead at 6:46 of the third period when he deflected a point shot from Justin Schultz past Hutton for his fourth of the year.
Hutton made 24 saves for Buffalo, which is 0-9-2 in its past 11 games, the third-longest skid in team history. The Sabres are 0-8-1 in their past nine home games, the second-longest winless streak in franchise history behind the 12-game slump when they went 0-6-1 with five ties between Jan. 10 to March 27, 1991.
“The score obviously is extreme,” Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said. “I don’t feel quit out of anybody. It’s for others to judge.”
The Capitals were without center Lars Eller due to a lower-body injury he suffered in Saturday’s 5-4 win against the Philadelphia Flyers. Eller has five goals and seven assists in 22 games this season.
Sabres forward Cody Eakin was a healthy scratch for the first time this season. Eakin, in the first season of a $4.5 million, two-year contract he signed with Buffalo in the offseason, has one goal and three assists in 26 games. He had five goals and 10 assists for the Winnipeg Jets and Vegas Golden Knights last season.
The Capitals went with 11 forwards and seven defensemen against the Sabres. Defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk replaced Eller in the lineup and played in his first game since Feb. 7. Van Riemsdyk has one goal in eight games.
The Sabres recalled center Rasmus Asplund from the taxi squad and sent defenseman Brandon Davidson to the taxi squad. Asplund played in his first game since Feb. 25 and his fifth of the season. Asplund replaced Eakin in the lineup.
Capitals: Face the Islanders on Tuesday night to start a six-game homestand.
Sabres: Visit the Devils on Tuesday night before returning home for a two-game set against the Boston Bruins on Thursday and Saturday that will be the first games with fans in attendance in Buffalo. Thursday’s game will have 700 frontline workers.
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