Nicolas Deslauriers didn’t make many friends on the Washington Capitals.
“No, not at all,” the Sabres forward said Tuesday.
First, Deslauriers put on crushing hit on Justin Williams and inadvertently bloodied the veteran during Monday’s meeting. Then the winger accepted a fight with Michael Latta and won convincingly, with Latta getting hurt during the bout. Finally, Deslauriers really irritated Washington’s players by celebrating the technical knockout on his way to the penalty box, exhorting the ecstatic Buffalo crowd to get even louder.
The Capitals warned Deslauriers to keep his head up from that moment on. He’ll be on the lookout Wednesday when the teams meet again in the nation’s capital.
“For sure, there could be some things going on out there – and it could be really quiet,” Deslauriers said after practice in First Niagara Center. “We’ll just see. I’m here to play hockey. I’m not here to fight every single game. We’ll try to get a win down there.”
While Deslauriers made a statement with his physicality, the Capitals talked louder by winning, 2-0. They scored their second goal with Deslauriers still serving the fighting major, and Washington tough guy Tom Wilson taunted the boxed-in forward.
“A little karma when he wants to play it up a little bit like that,” added Washington coach Barry Trotz. “It actually helped us out on the bench. We scored right away. I thought it was just karma.”
Karma or not, Deslauriers’ enthusiasm has put spice into a game that has slowly rid itself of fisticuffs and pugilistic showmanship.
“I enjoyed it,” Sabres defenseman Mike Weber said. “That’s a part of the game that’s gone away. It’s an emotional game out there. Especially a guy like D’lo, he plays with his heart on his sleeve and gives you whatever he’s got with whatever he gets a night.
“It’s still hockey. It’s still a tough game. It’s very emotional. It was nice to see some emotion.”
Deslauriers is undoubtedly the Sabres’ physical spark plug. Though he skates just 9:39 per game, second lowest on the team to David Legwand’s 9:27, Deslauriers leads Buffalo with 98 hits. The total ranks 21st in the NHL. He has three of the Sabres’ seven fights.
“With the minutes that I play, I have to bring everything every single shift,” Deslauriers said. “We just try to turn the game around. It didn’t go the way I thought it was going to go after that fight, but things happen.”
Deslauriers caught Washington’s eye when he threw the puck-carrying Williams into the boards with a hard left hand. As both players fell to the ice, Deslauriers’ stick caught Williams in the face.
“I looked at it and it was just unlucky,” Deslauriers said. “My stick just snapped him. I don’t wish anybody to get stitches like that on their face, but I think it’s just an unlucky bounce.”
On Deslauriers’ next shift, Latta challenged him during the faceoff.
“I had to answer the bell there,” Deslauriers said. “A couple guys wanted to do it. Give credit to him. He had to step up. I hope everybody appreciated it.”
The Sabres did. The fans did. The Caps didn’t, especially when Latta headed to the trainer’s room with an arm injury. Defenseman Karl Alzner had words with Deslauriers when the forward skated from the box to the bench.
“They tried to send a message,” Alzner said. “We tried to send a message. I guess we’ll see whose sunk in and who’s raring to go more next game.”
Washington, which improved to 27-6-2, will look for its eighth straight victory. The Sabres will try to win for the fifth time in eight games.
“They’re up among the top of the league there with Dallas, and we want to knock them off,” Weber said. “You need to play hard against those guys. You need to get those guys off their game and thinking about something else other than putting the puck in the back of the net.”