Under normal circumstances, barring strikes, lockouts, or pandemics, the NHL would be just over a month into the season in mid-November. This post looks at a Capitals’ game from mid-November during the 1997-98 season, specifically their game against the Buffalo Sabres on November 13, 1997.
The Capitals traveled to Marine Midland Arena for the third of a four-game road trip, to play the host Buffalo Sabres.
Going into the game, the Caps were 10-7-2, in a season in which they had started off very well but had tailed off in late October. However, they had won their prior game against the Pittsburgh Penguins only the previous day, making their tilt against Buffalo the second game of a back-to-back. The Sabres, on the other hand, had not started off the season well and were a dismal 5-8-4 and winless in their previous three games (a loss and two ties). The Sabres decided to start backup goaltender Steve Shields, as starter Dominik Hasek had performed poorly in the Sabres’ prior game against the Edmonton Oilers and had been pulled.
Because of numerous injuries to forwards, Capitals defenseman Phil Housley, who had recently earned his 1000th career NHL point, would be playing as a left winger, as he had in their previous game against the Pittsburgh Penguins and on a line with Adam Oates and Peter Bondra.
The game did not start off well for the Capitals, as Buffalo opened up the scoring just over 11 minutes into the period when Brad May scored his second goal of the season on assists by Bob Boughner and Jason Dawe. Nearly a minute later, fireworks erupted. Boughner cross-checked Capitals’ forward Craig Berube, who responded by slashing Boughner. Berube and Boughner then got into a fight and subsequently spent seven minutes each in the penalty box.
There were further flames later in the period when Capitals captain Dale Hunter and Rob Ray of the Sabres took matching high-sticking penalties. Ray earned another roughing penalty to end the period. Buffalo still led 1-0 going into the first intermission.
The Sabres were able to kill off the Ray penalty without allowing the Capitals to score. Over six minutes into the period, however, Richard Smehlik was called for holding, giving Washington a power play opportunity to tie the contest. This time, the Caps were able to take advantage. About halfway through Smehlik’s penalty, defenseman Richard Zednik scored his fifth goal of the year, getting an assist from fellow defenseman Sergei Gonchar. Forward Kelly Miller put the Capitals ahead at 13:27, getting an assist from Benoit Gratton.
Early in the third period, at the 2:23 mark, Derek Plante tied the score for Buffalo. Capitals defenseman Mark Tinordi had misplayed a puck passed from Michal Grosek, which ended going to Plante, who then scored. Just over two minutes following Plante’s goal, Oates, who was at the sideboards, passed to Bondra, who was alone in the slot. Bondra then shot and beat Shields high, glove-side and put the Caps ahead 3-2. The goal was Bondra’s 10th goal of the year and it turned out to be the game-winner.
The remainder of the game was notable for penalties. Brad May and Mark Tinordi got into a scrum minutes later after May slashed Tinordi, which resulted in a Capitals power play, which the Caps failed to take advantage of. Just after the 12-minute mark of the period, Benoit Gratton of the Caps and Erik Rasmussen of Buffalo got into a scrum that resulted in both of them going to the penalty box for coincidental minors. During the last five minutes of the game, the Capitals had to kill off a minor penalty to defenseman Brendan Witt which was soon followed by a minor penalty to Jan Bulis. Fortunately, the team was able to kill both of them and held on to win.
Washington netminder Olaf Kolzig made 23 saves in the game, especially early in the game and late in the game, when the Caps had to kill off the two minor penalties.
The Capitals traveled to Montreal for their next game. Buffalo, meanwhile, lost their next game and continued to play poorly throughout November. By February, they turned their game around. The Sabres finished with a winning record and earned third place in the Northeast Division and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals before getting eliminated by the Caps in six games.
By Diane Doyle