Caps Beat Sabres, 4-3, in Pre-Season Debut

September 17, 2009 | Ed Frankovic

Today, September 17th was Alexander Ovechkin’s 24th birthday and Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau’s present to the Great #8 was a night off in the Caps pre-season opener in Buffalo. Washington won the game, 4-3, and here is the write-up from the Associated Press:

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) -Brian Pothier scored during a two-man advantage in overtime to lift the Washington Capitals to a 4-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night in the preseason opener for both.

Buffalo, which had not been assessed a penalty until 39 seconds remained in regulation, incurred two in a span of 25 seconds to set up the overtime power play. Pothier fired a slap shot from the center point past Buffalo goalie Jhonas Enroth.

“Eventually you get an opportunity and you win,” Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said.

Alexandre Giroux, Mike Knuble and Jay Beagle scored for Washington. Semyon Varlamov played the entire game in goal for the Capitals and made 20 saves.

“Varly was pretty outstanding in the first two periods,” Boudreau said. “There were a lot of good efforts. The defensive veterans had a good game.”

Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff agreed about the Capitals’ goaltending.

“Varlamov was the story in the first period,” Ruff said. “We could have ran away with the game, but he made four or five really good saves when we had 2-on-1s and outnumbered situations.”

Jason Pominville, Clarke MacArthur, and Tim Kennedy scored third-period goals for Buffalo. Patrick Lalime started in goal for the Sabres and stopped six of seven shots in just over 33 minutes. Enroth made 21 saves.

Pominville scored 2:16 into the final period after failing to connect on two good chances during power plays in the second. MacArthur gave Buffalo a 2-1 lead, deflecting a shot at 6:12.

“I liked the effort, but our decision-making wasn’t very good,” Ruff said.

Giroux, a 28-year-old who scored 60 goals for the AHL Hershey Bears last season, gave Washington a 1-0 lead 8 1/2 minutes into the game, tapping in a loose puck in the goal mouth.

Giroux is looking to make an NHL roster after playing only 22 games in the league over the previous three seasons. His 60-goal season was his fifth straight of 30 or more in the AHL.

“He finds openings,” Boudreau said of Giroux. “You have to give him an opportunity to see if he can do it here. He finds ways to score.”

MY COMMENTS and BOX SCORE ANALYSIS – NOTE, I WAS NOT AT THE GAME:

Based on the comments above Varlamov appears to be picking up right where he left off in last season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs and that is very encouraging. I followed the game on the web and it was 1-0 Caps going into the third before a combined five goals were scored. The Caps outshot the Sabres, 33-23, but Buffalo had four power plays until Washington received the two man advantage that helped them win the game. Boudreau, when speaking of the veteran defensemen, seemed to be talking about Jeff Schultz (21:29 of ice time) and Pothier (15:13 of ice time) because the other 4 D-men were Karl Alzner (15:35 of ice time and a +1 rating), Sean Collins (21:04 of ice time), John Carlson (15:26 of ice time) and Tyler Sloan (14:22 of ice time).  Tarik’s blog on the game seems to confirm this assumption.

Center Nicklas Backstrom (#1 star of the game and 16:16 of ice time)  had two assists while Brendan Morrison (15:33 of ice time) had one assist. #19 apparently also had a good night in the face-off department and when I spoke with him on Caps media day last Saturday he said that area would continue to be a focus for him.

“I think it is going to be really important, like usual, we are working on it every day. It has a big impact on the game. To be a good center you have to be good on the draws so hopefully I can do even better this year. I was maybe around 50% last year, hopefully I can go up but it is hard to say right now but my goal is to improve on face-offs,” said Backstrom, who was 12-7 (63%) on draws against Buffalo on Thursday night.

The fourth line, and the one that received much less playing time than any other, consisted of 2008 1st round pick Anton Gustafsson (7:14 of ice time and only 1-4 on face-offs), converted d-man Joe Finley (8:20), and Steve Pinnizzotto (7:37).  As for Giroux, he is clearly among the elite at the AHL level but based on what I’ve seen of him with the Caps last year and then with Hershey in the Calder Cup playoffs his skating ability is what is holding him back from making it at the NHL level on a consistent basis.

The Caps next pre-season game is Saturday night in Chicago and it will be broadcast on the Caps radio network on 1500 AM and 820 AM. The first pre-season home game is Monday night, September 21st against Buffalo at the Verizon Center.

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