Caps Are No Match for Sabres

Jason Pominville, Olie Kolzig
Buffalo's Jason Pominville rides goalie Olie Kolzig to the ground as both vie for the puck. (David Duprey - AP)
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 22, 2007

BUFFALO, March 21 -- Wednesday night's meeting between the Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabres, in the end, was as big a mismatch on the rink as it was on paper.

Depleted by injuries and trades and flush with inexperienced players, the Capitals were no match for Daniel Briere and the Eastern Conference-leading Sabres, who struck three times in the second period and cruised to a 5-2 victory before a sellout crowd at HSBC Arena.

"Overall, the difference between the two teams was obvious -- the speed, the skill and the passing," said Capitals Coach Glen Hanlon, whose team dropped to 1-8-2 in its past 11 road games. "They are an excellent hockey team that's going to go a long way in the playoffs."

One of the Sabres who might be an important part of that postseason run is Dainius Zubrus, who faced his former teammates for the first time since the Feb. 27 trade that sent him from Washington to Buffalo. Zubrus chipped in two assists, giving him four points since joining his new team 10 games ago.

Zubrus's former linemate, Capitals all-star Alex Ovechkin, continued to slump. The left wing did not score for a fourth consecutive game and did not record a point for the sixth time in his past nine outings. He has steadfastly refused to criticize the Capitals' watered-down roster as contributing to his recent decline, but it's clearly difficult for Ovechkin to generate offense while playing with prospect Jiri Novotny and minor leaguer Alexandre Giroux. Novotny and Giroux have a combined 19 points.

"It's not my partners," said Ovechkin, who took three shots on goal. "It's me."

It was the second lopsided loss for the Capitals in Buffalo this season, although this one stung far less than the debacle on Dec. 26, a defeat Hanlon called embarrassing. In that game, the Sabres scored six goals in the first 11 minutes.

Washington was better on Wednesday, even if the final score didn't reflect it. Consider this: The Capitals emerged from the first period unscathed and trailed by one goal deep in the second period.

Briere scored Buffalo's third goal on the power play late in the second session and Drew Stafford clinched the Sabres' first win at home in four games by scoring twice on Olie Kolzig (26 saves) in the third.

Briere's tally gave the powerful Sabres four players with 30 or more goals (Chris Drury, Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville are the others), the most in the league.

"They are the epitome of the new NHL," said Capitals defenseman Brian Pothier, who scored his third goal. "They have speed. They work together. They move the puck well. You can't contain them because they are so quick. They create their own opportunities. But if you give them more opportunities on top of that, you're in trouble."

The Sabres, 3-0-2 in their past five games, also benefited from a strong outing by goaltender Ryan Miller, who turned aside 24 shots.

Hanlon said the Capitals let the game slip away late in the first period after enforcer Donald Brashear pounded Buffalo heavyweight Andrew Peters, knocking him to the ice three times with a variety of haymakers and jabs.

Peters was assessed an unsportsmanlike penalty and the Capitals went on the power play. But they squandered the advantage -- they finished 0 for 3 -- and the first period ended scoreless.

Derek Roy put the Sabres ahead 1-0 on the power play 40 seconds into the second session after a shot by Dmitri Kalinin smacked the end glass and bounced directly in front, where Roy made a tremendous play even to get his stick on the puck. It was the Sabres' first power-play goal in 25 opportunities.

Buffalo winger Clarke MacArthur made it 2-0 at 8 minutes 29 seconds when he fired a long slap shot off of Kolzig, who couldn't trap the puck between his arm and side. It tapped the post and trickled in.

Pothier cut the Sabres' lead in half at 15:00 of the second with a slap shot from the point that hit a Buffalo player on its way past Miller. But Briere scored the winner at 11:03 on the power play. The crafty center seized the puck along the end boards, muscled his way past rookie defenseman Jeff Schultz and fired a shot under Kolzig.

"That first fluky goal seemed to get them going a little bit," Kolzig said. "Then the second goal was a turnover. I'd still like to make that save, though. It wasn't a 5-2 hockey game. We have to learn from it."

Brashear scored with 1:35 left to provide the final margin.

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