BUFFALO, New York — Evgeny Kuznetsov said the NHL shootout is a bit like playing poker.
And the Washington Capitals rookie forward had an ace up his sleeve.
"A couple," he said, with a wide smile.
After scoring in regulation, Kuznetsov took a winding, patient route to the net to score the only goal in the shootout to secure a 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Monday night.
"I'd make a joke, but I don't know how to say it in English," said the Russian-born Kuznetsov. "This shootout is like poker. If you don't have a card, you never win."
Kuznetsov put the Capitals ahead 3-2 early in the third period. In the shootout, he slowly made his way toward the net, where he faked to his right before snapping the puck just inside the left post.
The Capitals escaped with a victory by overcoming a sluggish start and a pair of one-goal deficits to beat the league's worst team.
Curtis Glencross and Mike Green also scored for Washington (38-23-10), which matched last season's win total and opened a four-point edge over eighth-place Boston in the Eastern Conference standings.
Matt Niskanen had two assists and Braden Holtby made 30 saves, a day after a 2-0 shutout over the Bruins on Sunday.
"It wasn't pretty by any means for any of us," said Holtby, who made his 14th consecutive start. "I think it may have been an emotional letdown after last game."
The Sabres showed plenty of jump in building a 2-1 lead in the first period. And then they showed resolve after falling behind in the third, when Johan Larsson deflected in Chad Ruhwedel's shot from the right point to tie the game at 3 with 6:10 remaining.
Tyler Ennis and Cody Hodgson also scored for the Sabres, who dropped to 0-5-2 in their past seven games.
For Buffalo, this was a far better showing than the team's listless performance in a 6-1 loss at Washington on March 7.
"These guys for the last little while have been giving everything," Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. "They punch the clock."
The trouble is, the injury-depleted Sabres — featuring seven players, who began the season in the minors — couldn't match the Capitals' skill.
Buffalo managed just one shot on net during the shootout. Matt Moulson shot wide on his attempt. And the game ended when Phil Varone had the puck dribble off his stick while attempting to make a move in close.
The Capitals' power-play unit continued its hot pace by scoring on both opportunities, including Kuznetsov's goal
With Buffalo's Nikita Zadorov in the penalty box for delay of game, Niskanen set up the play from inside his own zone with a long pass to Kuznetsov at the Sabres blue line. Driving in on a 3-on-2 break, Kuznetsov patiently waited for the play to develop. Using Glencross as a screen, Kuznetsov snapped a shot into the open left side.
"I thought he was our best player by a wide margin," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said of Kuznetsov. "He's got a really good release and we want him to shoot more."
The message is starting to sink in, said Kuznetsov, who was a member of the Russian team that won the 2011 World Junior Championships in Buffalo.
"That's what Ovi yells at me every day," Kuznetsov said, referring to Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin. "I like when teachers teach me good stuff."
NOTES: Ovechkin failed to score in his third straight game. That's the NHL's leading scorer's longest drought since a three-game stretch from Dec. 11-18. ... The Capitals improved to 6-1-2 in their past nine against Buffalo. ... Ovechkin entered the day with an NHL-leading 21 power-play goals. The Sabres got their 21st on Ennis' goal. .... Buffalo recalled Ruhwedel from AHL Rochester earlier in the day to fill in for a banged-up blue line playing without Zach Bogosian (lower body) and Andrej Meszaros (hand).
All content copyright ©2015 Daily Journal, a division of Home News Enterprises unless otherwise noted.