Capitals Fall to Sabres, 2-1

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Washington Capitals used their best lineup of the preseason Monday at Verizon Center. The effort and execution, however, did not match the quality of the stars on the ice.

Drew Stafford and Patrick Kaleta scored 11 seconds apart early in the second period for the Buffalo Sabres, and the Alex Ovechkin-led Capitals' power play struggled in a 2-1 loss.

The loss dropped the Capitals' exhibition record to 2-1-0 after less experienced rosters collected overtime victories in Buffalo and Chicago last week.

"It was sort of expected," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "It's their first game, and that's the way they played it as. Their timing was off, but that's why you have preseason games, and that's why they'll be playing the majority of the games the rest of the way. It was a fairly sloppy game."

Washington's rustiness was most apparent on the power play, which went 0 for 5, including a brief five-on-three in the first period. In all, the unit mustered only three shots.

"The first time they practiced, it was this morning," Boudreau said. "When you have a lot of players, you don't have that opportunity. We'll start practicing that a lot more."

Boudreau did, however, notice a trend that occasionally caused trouble for the second-ranked power play unit.

"I don't know if they were holding back, they were trying to be too cute," he said. "At the beginning of the season, what works is shots. When we get used to each other, then we can start becoming fancy."

Boudreau also unveiled what could be the Capitals' top forward line on opening night. Free agent acquisition Mike Knuble skated most of the game with Nicklas Backstrom and Ovechkin with mixed results. Knuble, though, earned praise from Boudreau afterward, despite at least three misfires from point-blank range.

"He is what he is," Boudreau. "He grinds, he works, he gives you 100 percent every night. He's what coaches love to have. In the regular season, he's not going to miss three fabulous chances. He's going to convert one of the chances. He gets everything from going to the net and getting his nose dirty."

Late in the game, Boudreau promoted Alexander Semin to the top line and dropped Knuble to the second line in an effort to shake things up. It didn't work. The Capitals did not register a shot over the final 13 minutes 49 seconds of the game.

"We can't do that; we have to get out there the first 10 minutes and work hard," said Keith Aucoin, who scored the Capitals' goal. "We didn't do that. We got ourselves behind the eight ball."

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