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."
It was also the first tune-up for veteran goaltender José Theodore, who stopped 19 shots, including all 11 he faced in the first period. Theodore was named the No. 1 goalie entering camp but is being pressured by prospects Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth, both of whom impressed in victories last week.
"He was fine," Boudreau said of Theodore. "Everything that he saw he stopped. I didn't think there were a tremendous amount of chances on him. But he did what he's supposed to do [which was] keep us in the game."
The Sabres' goals came on a redirection in front of Theodore and a blown defensive assignment.
The first came at 5:55 of the second period when Stafford redirected Chris Butler's shot from the point. Then, just moments after the faceoff, a defensive mix up in front of Theodore permitted Kaleta to jam in a pass from Felix Schutz.
Defensemen Mike Green and Karl Alzner were on the ice for both goals. Alzner, who was paired with Green for the first time, assumed the blame for the second one.
"We talked before the game about how they send 'hope', or no looks passes to the front of the net," Alzner said. "It was a good pass. It went through me. I overplayed it. But if you're going to make mistakes, make aggressive ones. I guess that was an aggressive one."
Aucoin cut the Capitals' deficit to 2-1 late in the second period on a shot that deflected past Patrick Lalime off Buffalo defenseman Tyler Myers's skate.
Capitals Notes: Michael Nylander did not play Monday. He is the only veteran yet to appear in an exhibition game. When asked if the 36-year-old will play at all this preseason, Boudreau said, "I don't know. Potentially." . . . Green, Backstrom and Ovechkin were the alternate captains.