BUFFALO, N.Y. — Justin Schultz had a goal and two assists, and the Washington Capitals beat the Buffalo Sabres 4-3 on Friday night.
Washington star Alex Ovechkin scored his 21st goal of the season and No. 727 for his career, moving within four of Marcel Dionne for fifth on the NHL list. Brenden Dillon and Jakub Vrana also scored in a game the Capitals never trailed.
Vitek Vanecek stopped 30 shots to earn his NHL rookie-leading 16th win. Washington stopped a two-game slide and improved to 6-0-1 against Buffalo this season.
Henri Jokiharju, Casey Mittelstadt and Tage Thompson scored for Buffalo. Dustin Tokarski made 29 saves and dropped to 0-4-1 on the season.
Tokarski hasn’t won since the journeyman backup stopped 25 shots in Montreal’s 3-1 victory over Ottawa on Dec. 12, 2015.
Both teams were playing on consecutive nights. Washington bounced back from a 4-2 loss to Boston that dropped the Capitals into second place in the East Division, two points behind the New York Islanders. Buffalo was coming off a 6-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils.
The Capitals jumped to a 2-0 lead 11:39 in on goals by Dillon and Ovechkin, who scored when his intended pass for Tom Wilson in front banked in off of Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Dahlin.
Schultz scored 28 seconds into the second period to make it 3-1, and then set up Vrana’s goal. He drove up the middle and made a no-look pass into the right circle to set up Vrana’s one-timer, putting Washington up 4-2 midway through the third.
The Sabres displayed resolve and continued to show signs they aren’t the same pushover of a team that was in the midst of an 18-game skid just two weeks earlier.
Buffalo cut the lead to one goal three times, ending with Thompson tipping in Rasmus Ristolainen’s shot with 1:20 remaining.
Jokiharju cut the Caps lead to 2-1 by wristing in a shot from the left circle with 1:34 left in the first period. And they responded after Schultz restored Washington’s two-goal edge by blasting in a 45-footer 28 seconds into the second.
Mittelstadt scored midway through the period after being set up by Rasmus Asplund, who forced Schultz to cough up the puck behind the Capitals net.
Evgeny Kuznetsov had a goal disallowed with 3:13 remaining on a successful offside challenge by the Sabres. Replays showed Wilson was offside when Washington entered the zone.
FANS IN STANDS
The Sabres played their second game with paying fans in attendance, while the Capitals have approval from the District of Columbia to have 2,100 fans present as soon as their next home game, Tuesday against Philadelphia.
“You can hear it, you can feel it,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said of the eight games Washington has played in front of fans this season. “I know everybody’s excited to get back to normal, or at least start the process back to normal. So it’ll be great to have fans in our building.”
The Sabres claimed forward Drake Caggiula, a day after he was placed on waivers by the Arizona Coyotes. He has just one goal and six assists in 27 games this year.
The 26-year-old Caggiula is completing a one-year, $700,000 contract. His debut with the Sabres is expected to be delayed after being required to enter the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol upon arriving in Buffalo.
He adds experienced depth to the Sabres at a time when the team is expected to trade several players, including forward Taylor Hall, before the NHL’s deadline on Monday.
Washington’s T.J. Oshie played in his 400th career game, while it was No. 100 for Buffalo’s Victor Olofsson. Sabres undrafted rookie center Arttu Ruotsalainen made his NHL debut.
Capitals: Play at the Boston Bruins on Sunday.
Sabres: Open three-game road trip starting at the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday.
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