WASHINGTON – Matt Hackett is the proud owner of one of the coolest Sabres goalie masks in history. Alas, he couldn’t wear it Saturday night.
Even worse, he spent some of the evening in a baseball cap.
Hackett, called up from Rochester to face the Washington Capitals, surrendered four goals in 34 minutes and watched from the bench as Anders Lindback finished a 6-1 loss. It was not the ideal birthday present for the 25-year-old.
“That’s not acceptable,” Hackett said in Verizon Center. “That wasn’t a good enough game for me.”
Hackett had been rolling in Rochester. He stopped 29 of 30 shots Friday to improve to 3-0-2 in his last five starts. He couldn’t carry the good vibes into a matchup with the team that ranks sixth in the NHL in scoring.
“I know I have a lot better than that,” he said.
Buffalo opened the game with a goal by Johan Larsson just 2:35 in. The Capitals took control after that, especially during a three-goal second period that featured a 23-8 shot disparity. Washington finished with a 45-17 advantage.
Hackett had little chance of stopping the Capitals’ first two goals, but he looked overmatched on the next two. Alex Ovechkin faked a slap shot then slid a wrister past Hackett to make it 3-1.
“I bit on it and I looked stupid on it,” Hackett said. “That’s why he’s got 40-something goals, right? He’s a very special player, but there’s no excuse. I’ve got to stop that. That’s not a good goal.”
Four minutes later, with 6:07 left in the middle period, the goalie flailed at Brooks Laich’s high shot through a screen.
Lindback took over. The Swede, who took a 3-2 loss in Ottawa on Friday, built his resume almost immediately by stopping Ovechkin on a penalty shot. Lindback stopped 20 of 22 shots, while Hackett made 19 saves on 23 shots.
Hackett is trying to prove to the Sabres he can play in the NHL after suffering torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his knee during last season’s penultimate game. He fell to 0-2 this season after losing in January in Vancouver.
“I want to come here and prove myself, show I can still play in this league,” Hackett said before the game. “I just want to show Buffalo that I can play.”
He’s also auditioning for the other 29 teams. If Hackett fails to appear in six more games (and play 30 minutes in each), he will become an unrestricted free agent. If he meets the criteria, he’ll be a restricted free agent.
Buffalo’s next game is Wednesday in Toronto. The Maple Leafs are also reeling after getting blown out by St. Louis on Saturday.
Hackett earned plenty of Internet fans prior to the start of the game after Sabres equipment manager Dave Williams tweeted pictures of the goalie’s mask. The helmet features artwork of Buffalo sporting legends Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith, Gilbert Perreault and Dominik Hasek.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t fit Hackett’s face correctly. He had it made last year but can’t wear it.
“No one knew about it because I hadn’t worn it yet,” Hackett said. “Unfortunately, it’s not my size so I can’t wear it in a game. I’m sure all of Buffalo’s going to be mad, but I’m sorry I can’t wear it. We’ll try and remodel it and try and make it so it fits me next time.
“It’s pretty cool to have famous Buffalo athletes on there. It was an idea I had last year, and it came together pretty good.”
The Sabres made two other lineup changes. Tyson Strachan replaced Nikita Zadorov on defense. Forward Zac Dalpe returned after missing a game due to personal reasons and took the spot of Mikhail Grigorenko.
Because Grigorenko was on an emergency recall with Dalpe absent, the prospect had to return to Rochester when Dalpe returned. Grigorenko had company as Andrey Makarov also went back to the Amerks after serving as the backup goalie Friday.
Zadorov’s stay on the sidelines could be a short one. Blue-liner Andrej Meszaros got plunked by a Brooks Orpik shot midway through the first period and did not return with an upper-body injury. Zach Bogosian also went the dressing room after suffering a lower-body injury during the third period. He was moving OK in a walking boot.
Coach Ted Nolan on Meszaros: “He could miss a little while. I don’t think too long. We’ll see when he gets back and get our doctors to look at him. Same thing with Bogosian.”