Ryan Miller didn’t want to take all the credit for shutting down Alex Ovechkin and the high-octane Washington Capitals.
Miller, an AHL All-Star in 2004 and 2005, made 35 saves for his 16th career shutout, Nathan Gerbe scored his first NHL goal, and the Buffalo Sabres halted Washington’s six-game winning streak with a 3-0 victory over the league-leading Capitals on Wednesday night.
Gerbe, 22, earned the Dudley “Red” Garrett Award as the AHL’s outstanding rookie in 2008-09 after leading all AHL first-year pros with 30 goals and registering 56 points in 57 games for the Portland Pirates. A fifth-round draft pick by Buffalo in 2005, Gerbe ranked third on the Pirates this season with 20 points (5-15-20) in 23 games prior to his recall to the Sabres earlier Wednesday.
Ovechkin, the league’s second-highest goal scorer with 20, was held without a point for only the fifth time in 23 games. The Capitals (19-6-6) were shut out for the first time this season — and the first time since a 3-0 loss to Columbus exactly 11 months earlier.
"It took everybody to put an emphasis on getting back," Miller said. "We picked up sticks a lot, and Ovechkin had to really go to the outside a lot. He likes to create and make space for himself, but he had somebody right down his back. That makes it frustrating, and it makes it tough."
Miller, owner of the NHL’s lowest goals-against average, certainly did his part to make it tough on a Washington offence that came in with a league-high 108 goals. He stopped 13 shots in the third period.
He preserved his fourth shutout of the season when he robbed Brendan Morrison, who was staring at a wide-open net, with a diving glove save along the ice with 13 minutes left. Miller then snagged Nicklas Backstrom’s shot from in tight four minutes later.
Morrison hit the post with 4:45 to go.
"Those were two jaw-dropping saves," said defenseman Steve Montador, who scored a first-period goal. "There were stretches in the third where we probably could have done a better job, but at that time of the game we had dominated and done a good job of limiting their top line."
Gerbe added an assist, and defenseman Henrik Tallinder also scored for the Sabres (17-9-2), who snapped a two-game losing streak. Buffalo bounced back from being Martin Brodeur’s NHL record-tying 103rd shutout victim two days earlier against New Jersey.
"We all knew what was at stake," Miller said. "You can’t lose three in a row and call yourself a top team. You have to keep pace with the big teams, and we got back on our feet."
Washington took its first regulation loss in nine games.
"They just played solidly defensively," Ovechkin said. "But I think we didn’t play our game, at all. We didn’t get the puck in deep, and we didn’t control the offensive blue-line. I had a couple of chances, especially in the first period, but I just missed the puck and missed the net. It happens."
"They played a very disciplined game," Morrison said. "We kept trying to beat guys at the blue-line, but they basically put up a wall there and we were turning pucks over."
Montador opened the scoring with his second of the season 4:06 into the first period. From the right point, Montador’s shot skipped past Theodore, who was screened by Gerbe.
Gerbe made it 2-0 with 5:18 left in the second when he banked in a shot off Theodore’s pads while standing to the left of the post behind the goal-line.
Tallinder pushed Buffalo’s lead to 3-0 with his second of the season 3:16 later. Lugging the puck through the neutral zone, Tallinder wristed a high shot from the high slot that Theodore stopped, but the rebound popped back to Tallinder, who swatted it in.
"Our guys did a heck of a job playing the highest scoring team in the league," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "We took a lot of ice away from (their) key personnel. There was a lot to like with the way we defended."